Those opposing Juvenile Justice Bill are a minority, but with valid concerns

Written by: Maitreyee Boruah
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Once again in our democratic set-up, voice of the majority has won.

The passage of the Juvenile Justice Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, December 22, amid growing protests over the release of the juvenile convict in the December 16 Delhi gangrape, clearly shows that our politicians at times can rise above bitter political rivalries to honour the public sentiment.

Juvenile Bill

However, the solidarity among leaders belonging to different political ideologies must not be mistaken as a gesture for the collective good of the nation.

Our leaders know it well that it's necessary to soothe the frayed nerves of the janata to remain in power.

This winter session of Parliament also proved to be a complete washout. All that we witnessed was bitter acrimony between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) over alleged charges of corruption and, as a result of that, repeated adjournments.

The major takeaway from the just-concluded Parliament session is the passage of the Juvenile Justice Bill.

The Bill was kept in cold storage for long, before public outrage spilled over the roads of Delhi as the juvenile convict of the horrific gangrape and murder of the 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi in December 2012 was released recently.

The accused was found to be a juvenile at the time of the crime as he was just shy of his 18th birthday when he committed the crime. He was sentenced to a maximum of three years in a reform facility as per the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000.

Majority versus Minority

According to the new bill, an accused above 16 years of age will be tried as an adult in the court of law.

Nirbhaya

The new bill courted opposition on the controversial reduction of the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16 years.

It has been opposed tooth and nail by several children and women's rights activists, medical experts, scholars and a few politicians. Their main argument is based on the premise that a child can't be treated like an adult when it comes to crime and punishment.

However, the opposing party on the bill stands minuscule. If popular polls conducted by several media houses are an indication, majority of the participants clearly expressed their opinion that the juvenile accused should receive severe punishment like the four other accused.

Children are not adults

Social activist and writer Harsh Mander, writing for Scroll.in, says, "The Juvenile Justice Act, before its amendment by Parliament on Tuesday, was based on the premise that it is unjust to hold a child or adolescent criminally responsible for crimes in the same way as adults, because the capacity for reasoning and emotional control of children and teenagers are not fully developed, they are prone to risk-taking and do not understand the full consequences of their actions. Further, if they are housed with adult criminals, there is much greater chance that they would be inducted into a world of crime."

Rehabilitation or retribution?

Studies across the world have clearly shown that adolescents who were tried as adults have turned hardened criminals once they finish their jail terms. Here, we have to decide whether our criminal justice system should focus on rehabilitation than on retribution of young accused.

Poverty breeds criminals

Experts working in the field of child rights say 56% juveniles accused of crimes come from very poor families with a maximum annual income of Rs 25,000. Moreover, 53% juveniles are either illiterate or educated till primary school. So, instead of building schools for poor children, India is all set to build more prisons for deprived kids.

In the fight for justice, India can't afford to neglect its poor and vulnerable children.

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