In the wake of the barbaric gang rape on a Delhi bus in which one of the attackers is thought to have been a juvenile, India will amend its laws to treat such criminals as adults for the purposes of punishment in some cases.
Women and child development minister Krishna Tirath told HT on Friday that the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act will be amended to treat those over 15 years of age and charged with heinous sexual assault crimes as adults and try them in a regular court of law.
Currently, if an accused person is found to be a juvenile (under 18 years) he is tried by the Juvenile Justice Board and, if convicted, is sent to a juvenile home for a period of three years. An adult would face up to 10 years in prison for rape and up to life in prison for gang rape, though these penalties is being reviewed and may be made harsher.
“Since we are already in the process of amending the JJ Act, we are planning to incorporate this provision that juveniles over 15 years should be treated as adults while awarding punishment in heinous crimes such as rape. Such juveniles should be tried in a regular court of law,” Tirath said.
The minister, however, said that there is no plan to lower the age of juveniles as demanded by the many police chiefs and chief secretaries on Friday.
“Instead of lowering the age, we want to address this issue by making the law tough and seek exemption for juveniles charged with heinous crimes such as rape to be treated as adults,” Tirath said.
Any change in the law that will result in juveniles being treated as adults in rare cases will have no bearing on the Delhi gang rape case. But Tirath said her department would suggest the most severe punishment.
"Our ministry is of the view that it is a rarest of rare crime and hence all ... accused including the minor should be awarded death penalty."
The law covering juveniles is in focus because of the attack on a 23-year-old woman by six men in Delhi on December 16. The attack was so savage that the woman had to have her intestines removed. Police have said that the juvenile was the most brutal of the attackers. He may have to undergo a bone ossification test to determine his exact age.
At the meeting of chief secretaries and state police chiefs convened by the Centre, there was a clamour to amend the JJ Act to lower the age of juvenile to 16 years from the existing 18 years. The Congress party added its voice to the demands, saying that there was a need to re-look at the JJ Act in light of the Delhi gang rape.
Reducing the age has however met with fierce opposition from child rights groups and activists. In fact, it was on the recommendation of the WCD ministry that a child was defined as a person under 18 years and it was made uniform in all legislations including the JJ Act, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill and the draft Criminal Amendment Bill.