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Govt eyes age escape block

New Delhi, Jan. 4: The Centre favours amending the law to reduce the age of juvenility from 18 years to 16 years in exceptional cases such as the Delhi bus gang rape and murder.

“The Juvenile Justice Act can be amended to reduce the age from 18 to 16,” women and child development minister Krishna Tirath told reporters today.

Sources clarified this would not be a blanket reduction but would apply only to cases of “heinous” offences or extreme brutality.

One of the bus rape accused has been remanded in a juvenile home after he claimed to be under 18, and may get off lightly in a case where the death penalty has been sought for his five fellow accused.

Under the Juvenile Justice Act, under-18 offenders, however serious their alleged offence, cannot be tried under the regular penal laws. The maximum sentence they face even for offences such as rape and murder is just three years.

Home ministry sources said that even if the law was amended now, the new provision would not apply to the allegedly 17-year-old bus rape accused as the amendment cannot be effective retrospectively.

The alleged minor had been the most brutal among the six accused, the other five have allegedly told the police. But his name doesn’t figure in the chargesheet filed yesterday.

Sources said Delhi lieutenant governor Tejinder Khanna had suggested the amendment in a letter to the Union home ministry.

The suggestion comes amid a sharp rise in crimes against women by juveniles. In 2011, the highest increase in juvenile crimes was observed in dowry deaths (63.2 per cent), arson (57.6 per cent) and kidnapping of women and girls (53.5 per cent), according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

The highest incidence of juvenile rapes was reported from Madhya Pradesh (271), followed by Uttar Pradesh (146) and Maharashtra (125).

SC comment

Even the Supreme Court today observed that juveniles were engaging in “heinous” crimes, although it did not elaborate.

“They may be boys. But today, boys who are below 18 years are indulging in some of the heinous crimes. We have recently seen once such heinous offence (in Delhi),” the bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai said.

“Juvenile or not, he was an Indian citizen,” the bench added, while dealing with a public interest litigation on alleged fake encounters in Manipur.