Juvenile Justice Bill passed by Rajya Sabha; age for trying youth lowered

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Maneka Gandhi, Union minister for women and child development
Maneka Gandhi, Union minister for women and child development

As Nirbhaya’s parents watched the proceedings in the house, Rajya Sabha today passed the Juvenile Justice Bill, three years after the December 16, 2012, gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh. The bill was passed by a voice vote, subsequently lowering the age from 18 to 16 for juveniles to be tried as adults for heinous crimes.

Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi, while moving the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill in the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passage, said that, the legislation was “compassionate” and “comprehensive”, taking in to consideration the that juvenile crime was the fastest rising segment of crime in the country.

Gandhi, to further her case, appealed to opposition to take into consideration her arguments for the passage of the legislation, saying that the bill was everyone’s and not hers or the NDA governments.

“We may not be able to do anything about the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case but we can deter many other boys from doing so,” Maneka Gandhi said.

Shedding light on the intricacies of the bill, the women and child development minister said that, no juvenile would be directly sent to jail, or be directly jailed with adults or hardened criminals.

She said that, the juvenile criminal would first be psychologically assessed by experts who will decide whether the crime has been committed in a “child-like” or an “adult state of mind”.

She further added that if the court decides to send the juvenile to an adult jail, the juvenile would have the power to appeal the court’s decision.

“If juvenile is sent to jail, they will be sent to a borstal until they are 21 years old, after which there will be a review,” Gandhi added.

Stressing on the urgent need to pass the bill, Gandhi questioned whether it was the victims or the criminals that required protection. She went onto add that, it was imperative to pass the bill because of the seriousness of certain crimes committed by juveniles.

Parliamentary affairs minister, Venkaiah Naidu, in support of Gandhi’s appeal, said that, suggestions that the government was trying to shy away from discussing the bill were baseless, as the government had already listed the bill thrice during the current parliamentary session, and a number of times in the last session.

After much deliberation on the pros and cons of the bill, along with arguments attempting to delineate the causes behind juvenile crime, the bill was passed, amidst calls from several parties pushing for the bill to be reviewed by a select committee.

Despite of the bill being passed two days after the release of the Nirbhaya rape case juvenile, it may be noted that the bill cannot be applied in retrospective effect.