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Govt’s move to bring down juvenile age limit slammed

The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance  government’s decision to lower down the age of juveniles from 18 years to 16 has left women and child rights activists fuming. The women and child development ministry has recently put up a draft of the new Juvenile Justice Bill, 2014, which proposes that juvenile offenders might be tried under criminal court for heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

The government’s proposal has been strongly opposed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) but it has found support from the National Commission for Women.

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had stated that she was personally supervising the Bill and would ensure that juvenile offenders beyond the age of 16 years are subjected to trial under the criminal justice system.

NCPCR Chairperson Kushal Singh objected to the ministry’s proposal stating: “The amendments are moving away from the fundamental philosophy that the Juvenile Justice Act is reformative rather than being punitive.”

Urging the government to look at “children in conflict with law as those whom the state has failed to provide care and protection”, Singh asked the government to focus on reformation and not retribution.

58 NGOs under the banner of the ProChild Network on Wednesday also opposed the government’s “knee-jerk reaction” under public pressure in the wake of incidents like the December 16 gang rape and the Shakti Mills incident. The network highlighted the two Supreme Court judgments, in which it had rejected putting 16 to 18 year olds under criminal court jurisdiction stating that there was no evidence that warranted such a move.

Bharti Ali of HAQ centre for Child Rights, one of the NGOs in the network specifically refuted WCD minister Maneka Gandhi’s claim that “According to the police, 50% of the crimes are committed by 16-year-olds who know the Juvenile Justice Act.” Refuting it Bharti Ali cited National Crime Records Bureau statistics of 2013, which states number of juveniles in the age group of 16-18 years arrested for rape is 1388 which accounts for 0.002% of all rapes. Infact juvenile crimes as percentage of total IPC crimes have remained at 1.2% in last two years.

NCW however has supported the government move with chairperson Mamta Sharma calling for strict action against such offenders.

Reiterating that 50% juvenile offenders come from poor families with annual income less than Rs 25,000 and are illiterate 55.8% educated only upto primary school, the activists which included women groups like AIDWA have demanded that government work towards finding workable solutions to deal with juvenile criminals instead of simply pushing them under criminal laws wherefater they have no hope to reformed.

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