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Women and child welfare minister Maneka Gandhi has set the cat among the pigeons after stating that juveniles who commit rape should be tried as adults.
The minister's proposed move evoked mixed response among rights bodies with some welcoming the suggestion in view of the alarming rise in the number of juveniles in sexual assault cases.
Senior advocate and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Majid Memon said the statement does not go with the nation's principles.
Gandhi had said in Chennai on Sunday that she was personally working to amend the law so that 16-year-olds are brought out of the purview of the Juvenile Justice Act.
"Many times young boys have been found to have committed this crime, but somewhere, changing this Act (the Juvenile Justice Act) completely is not possible, although, we do respect her thinking," said Memon.
'Can't spare rapists'
Welcoming the statement on Monday, Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Barkha Singh Shukla said, "We welcome this message. How can we leave rapists without taking any strict action, by considering them as juveniles? There should be no difference between adults and juveniles in such cases".
National Commission for Women chief Mamta Sharma said that nowadays children mature at twelve years of age.
"I feel that the way children have exposed due to internet, they become matured after twelve years of age, with expert psychology they should try to find out why children do rape. Even in the Delhi gang-rape case, the cruellest person is going to be set free just because he is a juvenile. This is wrong," Sharma added.
The December 16, 2012, Delhi gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, the 17-year-old juvenile among the six accused was tried under the Juvenile Justice Act and was handed a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment in a reform facility.
Four other accused – one died in jail – were handed death sentence.
In the twin Shakti Mills rape cases in Mumbai too, two juvenile accused out of five were tried separately.
There was uproar over the lenient punishment to the juvenile offenders, and many had demanded that they should be treated as an adult and face death penalty for the crimes.
Former WCD minister Krishna Tirath, during the previous UPA regime, had proposed that juveniles above 16 years guilty of heinous crimes be treated on par with adult offenders.
The move was, however opposed by various NGOs and National Commission of Protection of Child Rights which stated that such a proposal was against child rights.