New Delhi, Sept. 3: The government is thinking of putting in place a new category in the Juvenile Justice Act to address crimes committed by adolescents aged between 16 and 18.
The proposal has gathered momentum against the backdrop of the outrage articulated by the mother of the girl gang-raped and killed in Delhi, after a three-year sentence was awarded to a juvenile accused last week.
The juvenile in the Delhi case could not be tried under the regular law as he was six months shy of 18 — the legal threshold for adulthood — at the time of the atrocity.
If the proposed change comes through, an accused in the Mumbai gang-rape case —aged 16 years and six months — can be prosecuted in the special category that could carry jail terms between five years and life.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the accused in most murders (861) and rapes (887) committed by children were aged between 16 and 18 in 2012. The data for the past five years echoes the trend.
“We are definitely incorporating harsher punishments for those children who are involved in heinous crimes and sending them away for longer periods under the Juvenile Justice Act,” said Krishna Tirath, the women and child development minister.
The ministry was mulling this option for some time but was tiptoeing because of pressure from child rights groups that were against changes in the law.
However, the ministry appears to have been emboldened enough to revive the proposal following the shock triggered by the light punishment for the juvenile who is now an adult.
“(Under the proposal) children in the 16-18 age group, accused of rape, gang rape, murder or are repeat offenders committing heinous crimes can be sent to jail for anywhere between five years to life. We will also discuss with the law ministry and the home ministry if we could sentence them on a par with the provisions mentioned under the Indian Penal Code,” minister Tirath added.
Tirath said she was against lowering the cut-off age for juveniles. “I have always maintained that I am against lowering the age of a juvenile. While we will propose harsher punishments in this particular age group, the law will state that the intention of the accused will be taken into account before the sentencing. One has to understand that most of the children who are involved in such crimes are from impoverished backgrounds, uneducated and often victims of abuse. So, their punishment, however harsh, should be reformative,” she said.
The ministry will propose that, if convicted, those in the 16-18 age bracket should be sent to special jails. They will be educated in subjects of their choice and given vocational training.
“These logistics need to be worked out with state chief secretaries with whom I will meet soon and the two other ministries. The ministry thinks that either these children could be housed in a separate jail or in a different section that will only be for this category of children,” said Tirath.