The cabinet on Wednesday approved the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 that proposes treating minors older than 16 years as adults if charged with serious crimes such as rape. However, they would not be sentenced to life or death if found guilty.
Inserting a crucial condition, however, the draft law gives the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Board the prerogative to decide whether a case where a juvenile is involved is ‘serious’ enough to be tried in a regular court.
Currently, if an accused person is found to be a juvenile (under 18 years), he is tried by the JJ Board and, if convicted, is sent to a juvenile home for a period of three years. An adult convicted of rape faces life term and even death sentence, in case of repeat offence.
Sources said the Women and Child Development (WCD) ministry which is piloting the bill is set to introduce it in the ongoing session of the Parliament.
The law covering juvenile has been in focus since December 2012 after the brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in the Capital. One of the six accused in the case is a juvenile, while the other adults were given death sentences. The incident had sparked nation-wide outrage and led to numerous calls for harsher punishment for juveniles involved in such heinous crimes.
Government data shows involvement of juveniles in serious crimes has risen 65% in the last decade.
Just last month, Supreme Court had questioned the blanket immunity enjoyed by underage offenders and asked the government to consider reviewing the law. “You can’t have a cut-off date for crime,” it had said. The suggestion for a review came after women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi favoured treating underage accused of heinous crimes on par with adults.
The bill also makes corporal punishment and ragging criminal offences under law. The existing JJ Act did not cover these two offences. Corporal punishment would invite a maximum jail term of three years and get a teacher sacked. For causing grievous hurt or severe mental trauma a jail term of three years and a fine of Rs. 50,000 have been proposed.
Similarly, ragging would invite up to three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 10,000.
Ragging by an institution's staff would put them at the risk of dismissal and a bar on working with children in the future. For causing grievous hurt or severe mental trauma a jail term of three years and a fine of Rs. 50,000 have been proposed.