With demands for passage of the juvenile justice bill -- that seeks to treat juveniles between 16 to 18 years as adults for committing heinous crimes such as rape – intensifying both inside and outside Parliament, the Rajya Sabha decided to take up the legislation for discussion on Tuesday at 2 pm.
The decision comes against the backdrop of the Supreme Court on Monday rejecting the plea against release of the ‘juvenile’ offender in December 2012 gang rape case.
Here’s all you need to know about it, as reported by PRS legislative research:
Who is a juvenile as recognised by law?
A juvenile or child is any one below 18 years. The Indian Penal Code also says no child can be charged with a crime until they are at least seven years old.
Why is there need for a new bill?
While introducing the bill, the government said the earlier law faced implementation hurdles and procedural delays. It also cited National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data to underscore a spike in juvenile crime, especially in the 16-18 age group.
The bill came after a massive nationwide debate on lowering the age of juvenile criminals to 16, especially in the case of heinous crimes such as murder or rape.
NCRB data shows the percentage of juvenile crimes, when seen in proportion to total crimes, has increased from 1% in 2003 to 1.2% in 2013. During the same period, 16-18 year olds accused of crimes as a percentage of all juveniles accused of crimes increased from 54% to 66%.
What is the new bill doing?
Currently, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 provides the framework to deal with children who are in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. The bill seeks to replace the existing 2000 Act and lays down the procedures to deal with both categories of children.
It highlights the two main bodies that will deal with these children, to be set up in each district: Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) and Child Welfare Committees (CWCs). It provides details regarding adoption processes and penalties applicable under the law.
The Bill provides for children between 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous crimes. The three types of offences defined by the Bill are: (i) a heinous offence is an offence that attracts a minimum penalty of seven years imprisonment under any existing law, (ii) a serious offence is one that gets imprisonment between three to seven years and, (iii) a petty offence is penalized with up to three years imprisonment.
Currently, how is a juvenile in conflict with law treated? How is that set to change?
Under the 2000 Act, any child in conflict with law, regardless of the type of offence committed, may spend a maximum of three years in institutional care (special home, etc.) The child cannot be given any penalty higher than three years, nor be tried as an adult and be sent to an adult jail. The proposed bill treats all children under the age of 18 years in a similar way, except for one departure. It states that any 16-18 year old who commits a heinous offence may be tried as an adult. The JJB shall assess the child’s mental and physical capacity, ability to understand consequences of the offence, etc. On the basis of this assessment, a children’s court will determine whether the child is fit to be tried as an adult.
What did the standing committee examining the bill observe?
One of the reasons cited for the introduction of the bill is a spike in juvenile crime, as depicted by NCRB data. The standing committee on human resource development examining the bill stated the NCRB data was misleading as it was based on FIRs and not actual convictions. It also observed that the bill violates some constitutional provisions and said that the approach towards juvenile offenders should be reformative and rehabilitative.
The bill as introduced posed certain constitutional violations to Article 14, 20(1) and 21. These have been addressed by deletion of the relevant clause, at the time of passing the bill in Lok Sabha.
What does the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) say? What are the obligations on the signatory nations?
The UNCRC was ratified by India in 1992 and the 2000 Act was consequently brought in to adhere to the standards set by the Convention. The proposed Bill maintains this aim and seeks to improve implementation and procedural delays experienced by the 2000 Act. The UNCRC states that signatory countries should treat every child under the age of 18 years in the same manner and not try them as adults. While the 2000 Act complies with this requirement, the Bill does not. However, many other countries who have also ratified the Convention try juveniles as adults, in case of certain crimes. These countries include the UK, France, Germany, etc. The United States is not a signatory to the UNCRC and also treats juveniles as adults in case of certain crimes.
Under the Bill, what happens to a child who is found to be orphaned, abandoned or surrendered?
The bill addresses children in need of care and protection. When a child is found to be orphaned, abandoned or surrendered he is brought before a Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours. A social investigation report is conducted for the child, and the Committee decides to either send the child to a children’s home or any other facility it deems fit, or to declare the child to be free for adoption or foster care. The Bill outlines the eligibility criteria for prospective parents. It also details procedures for adoption, and introduces a provision for inter-country adoption, so that prospective parents living outside the country can adopt a child in India.
Currently, the Guidelines Governing Adoption, 2015 under the 2000 Act, regulates adoptions. Model Foster Care Guidelines have also recently been released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
What are the penalties for committing offences against children?
Various penalties for committing offences against children are laid out in the Bill. These include penalties for giving a child an intoxicating substance, selling or buying the child, cruelty against a child, etc.
Issue to consider: The penalty for giving a child an intoxicating or narcotic substance is an imprisonment of seven years and a fine of up to one lakh rupees. Comparatively, buying or selling a child will attract a penalty including imprisonment of five years and a fine of one lakh rupees.
It remains to be seen if the Bill will be taken up for consideration in this session, and if its passage will address the issues surrounding children in conflict with the law.
(source: PRS legislative research)