Juveniles can be tried as adults for heinous crimes: cabinet

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared an amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act in order to allow juveniles aged 16 and over to be tried as adults for heinous crimes.

"The cabinet has approved amendments to the Act,'' communications and information technology minster Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting.

The issue was brought before the cabinet a fortnight ago but was dropped from the agenda at the last moment and it was decided that an informal group of ministers will examine the issue.

Several ministers in the cabinet meeting supported the proposal saying a person accused of crimes like rape should be treated as an adult, a senior minister said after the meeting.

"The new proposed Act (the amendment bill) provides that in case a heinous crime has been committed by a person in the age group of 16-18 years it will be examined by the Juvenile Justice Board to assess if the crime was committed as a 'child' or as an 'adult'.

"Since this assessment will be made by the Board which will have psychologists and social experts, it will ensure that the rights of the juvenile are duly protected if he has committed the crime as a child. The trial of the case will accordingly take place as a juvenile or as an adult on the basis of this assessment," an official statement said.

The amended bill also proposes to streamline adoption procedures for orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children. It establishes a statutory status for the Child Adoption Resources Authority (CARA).

The legislation proposes several rehabilitation and social integration measures for institutional and non-institutional children. It also provides for sponsorship and foster care as completely new measures.

Mandatory registration of all institutions engaged in providing child care is also in the offing.

New offences, including illegal adoption, corporal punishment in child care institutions, use of children by militant groups and offences against disabled children have also been incorporated in the proposed legislation.

The major amendments include removal of Clause 7 that relates to trial of a person above the age of 21 years as an adult for committing any serious or heinous offence when the person was between the ages of 16-18 years; enhancing the period of preliminary inquiry by the Juvenile Justice Board in case of heinous offences committed by children in the age group of 16-18 years; increasing the reconsideration period for surrender of children by parents or guardians; enhancing the period for inter-country adoption in case the child is not given for domestic adoption; assigning the role of designated authority to monitor the implementation of the Bill to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and making the central and state governments responsible for spreading awareness on the provisions of the bill.

The amended bill will be brought before parliament again in the ongoing budget session, official sources said.

On 6 April 2015, the Supreme Court had said that there was a need to re-examine various laws dealing with juveniles involved in heinous crimes like murder and rape and had asked the government to see whether necessary changes could be done to have a deterrent effect.

The apex court had asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to consult competent authorities and suggest to it whether the relevant laws can be "re-looked, re-scrutinised and re- visited" for sending a message to the society that life of the victim was equally important under the rule of law, as per PTI.

It had said the spurt in involvement of minors in heinous crimes like rape, murder and dacoity stressed the imperative need to mull changes in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

The bench was hearing an appeal against the decision of Punjab and Haryana High Court awarding life sentence to a murder accused.

The proposed amendment would also bring in the concept of foster care to enable children to be placed with willing families instead of children homes, and the government would be ready to pay for this, she had said in Rajya Sabha while replying to a discussion on the working of the Women and Child Development (WCD).

Increasing cases of crimes committed by children aged 16-18 years in recent years makes it evident that the current provisions and system under the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 "are ill equipped to tackle child offenders in this age group", the statement of objects and reasons of the bill said.

The amended bill will be brought before parliament again in the ongoing budget session, official sources said.

And given the strong feelings on the subject, the amendment is likely to sail through parliament.