India, crimes, juvenile, age, Bismillah Geelani

Maneka Gandhi is India’s Minister for Women and Child Development.

She strongly believes that children over 16 should be tried as adults for crimes like rape and murder

“According to the police 50% of all sexual crimes are committed by 16-year olds – they know the law and think they can get away with it. But now if we bring them in to the purview of the adult world then it can scare them.”

And Maneka successfully convinced her cabinet colleagues.

The gang-rape and murder of the 23-year-old student on a bus in the Indian capital caused international outrage and forced the Indian authorities to introduce tough new anti-rape laws.

One of the six accused in the case was 17-year old and could not be tried along with others in a normal court.

He was sentenced by Juvenile Justice Board to a 3-year stay at a children’s remand home- the maximum punishment that could be given.

Usha Devi is the mother of the Delhi gang rape victim.

“We were deeply saddened when the culprit in our case got away so lightly but now with this change in the law we are happy that it won’t happen with any other woman in the future. The victim will get justice and the juvenile criminals will have to pay for their crimes.”

Most Political parties have also welcomed the government’s decision.

Atul Kumar Anjan is a senior leader with the Communist Party of India.

“Reports of children getting involved in crimes as serious as murder are pouring in from across the country but because of the protection they enjoy under the Juvenile Justice Act, they can’t be held accountable.  Looking at the gravity of the crimes reported the decision to lower the age from 18 to 16 years is necessary.”

But Human Rights groups and NGOs working with high-risk children are fiercely opposing the move.

They say it’s a knee-jerk reaction and does not address the root causes of rising levels of crime among children.

Colin Gonsalves is Director of the New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network.

“Shouldn’t we look into reasons why juvenile aggression is increasing? Take Delhi for example, you have something like 200,000 children on the streets of the city, we are doing cases of juveniles called into police stations and sodomized, we are doing cases of children being called into police stations and made to clean toilets. You have such high levels of crime, such high levels o f violence against juveniles, is it any surprise that the poor the illiterate juveniles are actually getting a feeling that India is not a country for them at all.

India amended the Juvenile Justice Act in the year 2000 rising the age of minors from 16 to 18 years.

It was done to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child to which India is a signatory.

The UN has described the fresh amendment to the law as a real step back.

Vrinda Grover is a Human rights Lawyer.

“It was amended by the very same government that is in power today. We are going to be violating our international obligations and we will be exposed to criticism.

India is not the only country lowering the juvenile age limit. Countries like the USA and the UK have also set juvenile age below 18 years.

But International law expert Karuna Nandy says, all these experiments have failed to control juvenile crime.

“There is the Harvard study, there is the US Department of Justice Study, there are New Zealand studies and there are studies in our own country, study after study shows that women are not safer, the society is not safer if you put juveniles lock them away with adults what happens is that the rate of crimes and the rate of repeated crime goes up dramatically.

The bill still needs the approval of parliament.

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