New Delhi: A parliamentary committee today rejected the government's proposal to try as adults juveniles between 16 and 18 years involved in heinous cases such as rape, saying the move is "in conflict with law" and should be "reviewed".
Giving its observation on the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on HRD said children below 18 years are amenable and should be treated in the same manner and "differential treatment" for children above 16 years of age "should not arise".
The report of the committee comprising J P Nadda and Satyanarayan Jatiya was submitted in Parliament today.
The comprehensive bill to tackle increasing crimes committed by youngsters aged between 16-18 years like the Delhi gangrape case and to ensure proper care and protection of needy children was introduced in Lok Sabha last August.
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.
Referring to the views expressed by the stakeholders about a clause of trying an offender apprehended after the age of 21, the committee said that it was in full agreement with them that the provision was "discriminatory" and all children below 18 years should be treated as children.
"The proposed legislation is meant for children alleged and found to be in conflict with law. And the definition of both the term 'child' and 'child in conflict with law' means a person who has not completed 18 years of age.
"Accordingly the question of envisaging a differential treatment for children above 16 years of age should not arise.
Such a move would lead to contravention of international law and also the stated purpose of the bill," the committee said.
"The committee accordingly recommends that the entire process needs a relook and review," it underlined.
The committee is of the view that all children below 18 are "amenable and should be treated in the same manner because of the fact that there involvement in offending acts was primarily due to either environmental factors or their unique development features such as risk taking nature, less future orientation, adventurism etc or both".
Specifically referring to Clause 19(3) which seeks further trial of a child as an adult, the committee said it needs to be "reviewed".
The clause states that after preliminary enquiry, if the Juvenile Justice Board comes to the conclusion that there is a need for further trial of the child as an adult, then it may order transfer of the trial of the case to the children's court having jurisdiction to try such offences.
The committee observed that since these courts are essentially sessions courts given additional task of ensuring speedy trials of offences against children, therefore by "all interpretations, they were court for adults".
"There is no doubt that this sub-clause diminishes the distinction between child victims and children in conflict with law by entitling the courts under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012...," it said.
It also recommended that all relevant clauses dealing with "children's courts and differential treatment of children between 16-18 years needs to be reviewed," he emphatically stated.
It said differential treatment of children above 16 years and below 18 years to be tried as an adult under the criminal justice system was also in complete contravention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It was also in contravention to the stated purpose of the bill of adopting a child friendly approach in adjudication and disposal of matters in the best interest of children.
"The very presumption that persons between 16-18 years were competent to stand trial just as adults was also not free from very genuine doubts, it observed.
The committee shot down a clause that binds the board to conduct preliminary enquiry about mental and physical capacity within one month in respect of heinous offences committed by children above 16 years, saying it was impossible to conduct such a complex enquiry within that period.
Continuing with its reservation about some of the provisions, the committee noted that incidence of juvenile crime only increased from 0.9 per cent in 1999 and 2000 to 1.6 per cent in 2001 when age of juvenile was raised to 18 years.
"The committee would also like to point that increase has also been noted in 2013 in crimes committed against women by the general population (adults) — a 32.1 per cent increase regarding rape and 35.6 per cent increase in registration of cases regarding kidnapping and abduction of women and girls.
"Thus it would be wrong to conclude that the pattern of juvenile crime in relation to overall pattern of crime in the country has altered in any significant manner," it said.
Moreover, it noted that some incidents of juvenile crime, though a cause of serious concern, should not be the basis for introducing drastic changes in the existing juvenile justice system.
Surprised over the Women and Child Development Ministry choosing to ignore views of major stakeholders, it felt that "better implementation of the Act and more public awareness were required to be focused upon to curb the recent cases of juvenile crime".
The committee can only conclude that the existing juvenile system is not only reformative and rehabilitative in nature but also recognises the fact that 16-18 years is extremely sensitive and critical age requiring greater protection.
"Hence there is no need to subject them to different or adult judicial system as it will go against Article 14 and 15(3) of the Constitution," it said.