Don’t change juvenile age: NGOs

TNN | Jul 17, 2014, 12.49 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Lowering the age limit for juvenile delinquents from 18 years to 16 years is not the answer to the city's crime spiral, women and child rights activists said on Wednesday after getting together to demand a dialogue with the Centre on the draft Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Bill, 2014.

The campaign follows Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi's recent statement that juveniles involved in serious crimes like rape should be tried as adults. Her statement has revived the debate on the juvenile age issue that was first raked up after the Nirbhaya gang rape in December 2012.

Under the banner of ProChild Network, a coalition of 58 NGOs, activists have gathered in the city to demand that the ministry reconsider its decision to allow treatment of some juvenile offenders as adults while looking for solutions in the existing JJ system. Angan Trust, Centre for Child and the Law, NLSUI Bangalore, CRY, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, Leher and Save the Children are part of the coalition that called upon the government to deliberate before deciding to repeal and re-enact the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

ProChild Network has offered to help the government find a solution to rising sexual violence by juveniles, by giving professional suggestions based on evidence and research.

"We strongly condemn all sexual violence, be it by adults or juveniles… But we also condemn pitching human rights of women against human rights of children since that will not provide an answer to creating a healthy society. All we want is a dialogue with the government before a final decision in this regard is taken," said Bharti Ali, co-director of HAQ.

On June 18, the Ministry of Women and Child Development stated its intent to repeal and re-enact the Juvenile Justice Act and invited feedback from stakeholders and civil society groups on the draft Juvenile Justice Bill, 2014. The voluntary organizations have submitted their suggestions to the ministry. The draft Bill put up on the ministry's website after the BJP government took office is different from the draft put up before various experts on a review committee set up by the UPA government, the voluntary organizations say. The draft Bill recommends sweeping changes.

Under the ministry's proposal, while trying a juvenile aged 16-18 years who is involved in heinous crimes such as rape and murder, the Juvenile Justice Board will decide whether he should be sent to an observation home or tried under a regular court. This, NGOs fear, can be misused given the many flaws in the policing and JJ systems.

"We firmly believe all human beings, especially growing children, need to be taught that there are consequences of their actions and that they need to be accountable for their behaviour," a statement issued by the group said.

"However, we assert that the means for ensuring accountability should be grounded in child and adolescent psychology, the rights of children and a deeper understanding of the circumstances that lead to such behaviour or action, be it indiscipline, anti-social or criminal behaviour," it adds.

As per the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, in 2013, as many as 33,707 rape cases were registered in the country as against 24,923 cases in 2012. The number of juveniles involved in rape cases in 2013 was 1,884.