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Activists seek House cushion on juvenile bill

New Delhi, Aug. 10: The battle between the women and child development ministry and child rights activists over the juvenile justice bill will now be fought in Parliament.

“We are talking to MPs to make them aware of what this provision means and to persuade them to send it to a standing committee for wider consultations,” rights activist Enakshi Ganguly said.

“This provision” refers to a clause that says minors aged over 16 who are accused of heinous crimes can be tried under the adult criminal law and face adult punishments (except for a life term or the death sentence). Rights activists are opposed to this.

All accused aged below 18 are now tried under the existing Juvenile Justice Act, which provides for a maximum punishment of three years in a reformation home.

“The bill is contrary to the BJP’s election manifesto,” said Sanjay Gupta of Chetna, a child rights organisation.

“A minuscule number of children are involved in crimes in India. Instead of doing something to further reduce the number, the government is thinking of (harsh) punishment. We’ll take the issue up with various political parties.”

Former Congress Union minister Oscar Fernandes told The Telegraph that he too was against the provision. “This is a socio-legal issue and needs thorough discussion,” he said.

“It’s very easy to punish, but it is important to transform. I believe this bill should be referred to a standing committee as it will ensure the stakeholders are allowed to have their say.”

Although women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi’s draft for the bill is a continuation of that proposed by her UPA II predecessor, the rights activists believe that some Congress MPs might still be persuaded to vote against the bill.

Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury said the issue needed detailed nationwide discussion. “It is something we need to discuss threadbare,” she said.

ProChild Network, a coalition of child rights organisations, questioned the hurry in which the ministry had finalised the bill.

The ministry had invited feedback on the draft from civil society groups, but gave them just 15 days. Several groups, individuals and organisations had sought more time for consultations since the proposal was about revisiting the entire juvenile justice law. But no extra time was given.

“The misconception that the present JJ Act gives impunity to juveniles who commit crimes needs to be dispelled,” said activist Arlene Manoharan.

“The existing law provides for juveniles to be held accountable for their actions, but in a manner that enables them to re-integrate into the community with dignity and hope. Evidence from across the world shows us that sending children to the adult justice system produces career criminals.”