Eminent child rights activists in the Capital on Friday sternly opposed the Centre's proposal for amending the Juvenile Justice Act to exclude children committing heinous offences from its purview or lower the age for juvenility. They said the step would be "counter-productive" and "will not act as a deterrent".
They have all written to former chief justice of India JS Verma, who is heading a panel to suggest changes in the anti-rape law, and have also urged the government to consult them before taking any decision.
The experts are Amod Kanth, former chairperson of Delhi Commission for protection of child rights and general secretary of NGO 'Prayas', Bharti Ali of 'HAQ' centre for child rights, Anant Asthana, an advocate and juvenile justice expert, activist Mohammad Aftab of 'Save the Children' and Ved Kumari, eminent expert on juvenile justice law and ex-chairperson of Delhi judicial academy.
Pointing out that the focus of the Act is to give the offender a chance to reform, they said instead of tinkering with the law, the urgent need was to strengthen the approach of protection and preventive care for children who may end up like the juvenile who was allegedly involved in the Delhi gangrape case.
They said such knee-jerk proposals under public pressure based on one incident will have long-term dangerous consequence on the plight of lakhs of other juveniles.
"One incident cannot be a reason to disturb the well thought-out purpose of the law…it will not only disturb the momentum of efforts to improve protection of children but also open a Pandora's box wherein similar demands will be made for several other offences committed by a juveniles considered serious in nature," they said.
"The juvenile in the present case was separate from his family since he was five years old, remained in street in bad company and worked under extremely hazardous and exploitative circumstances. The circumstances under which he lived present the typical profile of a child in need of care and protection turning a juvenile offender," they said in a joint letter to justice Verma.
They said juvenile delinquency cannot be curbed with such amendments but by effective enforcement of the various provisions of the act and creating an effective system to deal with juveniles in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection.