India moves to treat serious juvenile offenders as adults | Asia Pacific

India moves to treat serious juvenile offenders as adults

India moves to treat serious juvenile offenders as adults

Updated 1 August 2014, 12:57 AEST

The Indian government is proposing to change the law to allow 16 year-olds accused of crimes such as rape and murder to be tried as adults.

But there's growing opposition to the move from rights activists, who argue that there needs to be a proper debate before the law is amended.

Reporter: Murali Krishan

Speakers: Vrinda Grover, rights activist; Atiya Bose, advocacy lawyer; Achal Bhagat, psychiatrist; Bharti Ali, co-director child rights organisation.

KRISHNAN: The women and child affairs ministry has proposed that while trying a person aged between 16 and 18 involved in rape or murder, the Juvenile Justice Board could decide whether he should be sent to an observation centre or be tried in a regular court.
 
What's more the proposed Juvenile Justice bill, to be tabled in Parliament, will also apply to juveniles accused of being repeat offenders for a host of other crimes like banditry and robbery.
 
This is not the first time that such a suggestion has been made. It first grabbed headlines after the December 2012 gang-rape of a paramedic student in Delhi that sparked off a country-wide outrage and even resonated globally. 
 
The chorus on reducing the age of juveniles has only grown louder.
 
But women and child activists have voiced their opposition. They argue warn that each case must be treated individually and children under 18 should be given a chance to reform.
 
Vrinda Grover, is a lawyer.
 
GROVER: By putting them in the adult legal system which as we know is not working and the prisons themselves create hardened and worse criminals, we are going to ensure that they will be many, many young men out there who will become repeat offenders.
 
KRISHNAN:The latest National Crime Records Bureau figures showed that 33,707 rape cases were registered in 2013, of which only 1,884 had involved juveniles.
 
Atiya Bose, who is an advocacy lawyer and worked in the US says this change cannot work.
 
BOSE: This is a system that has been tried in other western countries who have been using what is called the waiver system or transfer where certain categories of youth are moved into the adult system. And the evidence particularly from the US where they have been doing it for the last 20 years shows resoundingly that it does not set out to do the work that it was set out to do - which is to deter crime and to prevent re-offending. 
 
KRISHNAN:Bharti Ali, who works in a child rights organisation Haq says the proposed amendments would create more confusion.
 
ALI: We can't have one law which says age of sexual consent is 18 and any sexual activity below the age of 18 will amount to statutory sexual assault. 
And you don't attribute any amount of maturity to the 16 to 18 year olds who are getting into sexual activity and at the same time you have another law where you say these 16 and 17 year olds are so mature that they are capable of being treated as adults. So we can't have such dichotomies in our legal system.
 
KRISHNAN:Activists also warned against pitting women rights against child rights in the ongoing struggle to combat sexual crimes. 
 
Ms Grover says amendments to correct the flaws in the juvenile system would be helpful.
 
GROVER: I would urge the minister and the government to strengthen and intensify efforts for the care of the juvenile, for the treatment and monitoring of the juvenile rather than get rid of them and push them into a dysfunctional system.
 
KRISHNAN:Achal Bhagat, a psychiatrist seconds that view.
 
BHAGAT: I think a lot of reform in the juvenile justice system is going to be needed. A lot more structuring of what the reformative process is, needs to be done. We need to definitely have better quality human resource for the juvenile justice system. And for preventing crime, we need to work at the educational inputs on how we start respecting each other as individuals.
 
KRISHNAN: It is unclear if a change in law will bring down sexual crimes. What is certain is that sexual violence continues to plague India's women on a daily basis. Little or nothing has changed.
 

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