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In grave crime, adult trial for minors
Cabinet clears juvenile bill

New Delhi, Aug. 6: The Union cabinet today cleared the Juvenile Justice Bill, allowing children between 16 and 18 years to be tried as adults when accused of heinous crimes.

The provision was introduced into the draft bill by UPA II after the December 2012 gang rape of a paramedic, who died of injuries sustained during the brutal assault on a Delhi bus. One of the accused was a minor who was last year sentenced to three years in jail by the Juvenile Justice Board — the maximum punishment permissible so far — causing an uproar.

The bill, primarily drafted by UPA II, has made over 100 changes to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

The most significant change is that it grants the Juvenile Justice Board the power to transfer cases of heinous crime in which the accused are children between 16 and 18 years to a regular court where they will be tried as adults. However, they cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment or death.

The Juvenile Justice Board will have a month after a case is filed to decide whether or not to transfer it to an adult court based on three parameters: whether the crime was premeditated, if there were any mitigating circumstances and the child’s ability to understand the consequences of the offence.

Another change is replacing the word “juvenile” with the word “child”. Under the JJ Act, 2000, the “accused” were described as “juveniles in conflict with the law”. However, the draft bill identifies a “child in conflict with law” only if the child is found by the Juvenile Justice Board to have actually committed an offence.

The proposed bill introduces provisions to deal with corporal punishment, ragging, using children for peddling, smuggling, sale of children for adoption, use of children in armed groups, kidnapping and abduction of children, and offences committed on disabled children.

These offences were earlier dealt with under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Sources said two provisions in the bill could lead to disagreements in Parliament once it is tabled — that to try children between 16 and 18 years as adults and that to penalise parents for corporal punishment.

Beating, verbal use or any other form of corporal punishment can draw a jail term for parents, guardians and schoolteachers under the new bill.

The existing law does not cover corporal punishment, but prescribes a six-month jail term for parents and guardians for assaulting, abandoning or exposing a child to abuse.

Illegal adoption or transfer of a child is proposed to be made an offence punishable with up to seven years in jail. The bill also gives statutory status to the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) to regulate adoptions keeping the best interest of the child in mind.

Registration of all child care institutions is proposed to be made mandatory, with stringent penalty in case of non-compliance.

Some provisions in the existing law have been made more stringent. For instance, employing a child for begging invites a jail term of three years under the 2000 Act. This has now been increased to between five and 10 years. Similarly, using a child for peddling drugs can invite a jail term of seven years as compared to three years at present.