New Delhi, Dec 24: Passage of a bill which provides that 16 year olds can now be tried as adults for rape and murder was the major highlight of the Women and Child Development Ministry in 2015 during which revised guidelines of adoption and foster care were also issued.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014, made news throughout the year as it was aggressively pushed in Parliament even after receiving a lot of flak from children's rights groups who called it a regressive step and argued that most kids who break the law come from poor and illiterate families.
Union minister Maneka Gandhi, who was piloting the bill, expressed satisfaction that the new law will act as a deterrent for juvenile offenders involved in serious crimes.
Even after being rejected by the Parliament Standing Committee, the ministry introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha in May, where it was passed.
However, it was stuck in Rajya Sabha due to certain objections by the members and was ultimately passed on December 22 with a voice vote after a walkout by Left parties which wanted it to be sent to a Select Committee.
A brainchild of Maneka, the bill was drafted in the backdrop of the public outcry over the Delhi gangrape of 2012 in which a juvenile accused received lighter punishment because of his age. Maneka also sought enactment of another law for regular monitoring of sexual offenders.
She asked Law Ministry to enact the law for mandatory registration of sex offenders who have served their punishment so as to allow surveillance by the local police.
The demand came after reports of radicalisation of the juvenile convict, who will walk free after serving his punishment, evoked dismay among activists who said that it was necessary to ascertain that the youth has been reformed before releasing him in the society.
Maneka was also keen on launching the revised guidelines of adoption and foster care so much so that her ministry decided not to wait for Parliament to pass the JJ Bill for new adoption rules to come into effect. It instead notified the rules under the existing Act in August.
The new rules allow single parents to adopt a child, a The new rules allow single parents to adopt a child, a clause that did not go down well with the most experienced adoption agency, Missionaries of Charity, which later stopped facilitating adoption of children.
In 2016, Maneka envisages a slew of projects including measures like increasing the districts under 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' (BBBP), launching National Nutrition Programme for malnourished children and building one-stop crisis centre in every district. "I have a long wishlist for 2016.
I would try launching 'Sakhi' centres and special women police volunteers in every village," she said. 'Sakhis' or one-stop crisis centres are also one of the major programmes of the ministry under Nirbhaya Fund not much of which was utilised till the beginning of the year.
The first such centre was inaugurated by the ministry was in Chhattisgarh in June. It acts as a one-stop facility, providing all kinds of aid to women in distress including medical help, counseling, legal and police assistance, while ensuring anonymity of the victim.
The ministry also took up the project of building India's largest widow home in Vrindavan, which is expected to be completed next year. "I would like to finish the making of India's largest widow home and the first one of its kind in Vridavan. It will be for 1000 women," Maneka said. She also said her ministry plans to increase the ambit of BBBP which is currently running in 100 selective districts.
"I would increase the districts of BBBP to as many as we can. We will choose the next worst districts of child sex ratio," she said. The year started with the launch of BBBP in January to create gender sensitivity after child sex ratio drastically dropped to 918 in 2011 from 945 in 1991 and 927 in 2001.
The scheme focused on intervention and multi-sectoral action in 100 districts with low child sex ratio. According to Maneka, 2015 was a year of great ideas and achievements which will be seen next year as she expressed hope that the government will focus more for welfare-oriented schemes benefiting women and children. "I would like to see all of us more welfare oriented and try to make lives of women easier," she said.