The move to change the law gathered momentum after the youngest convict in the notorious 2012 Delhi gang rape was recently released from detention. It will become law once President Pranab Mukherjee signs it, likely a formality. The death penalties have yet to be carried out.
The bill, which was passed by the lower house in May, had been listed for passage in the upper house during the ongoing winter session but proceedings have been hampered by perennial spats between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition members.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said on Tuesday the legislation aimed to strike a balance between the rights of a child and the need to deter heinous juvenile crimes, especially against women.
“I think the ayes have it, the ayes have it, the ayes have it. The bill has been passed“, P J Kurien, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, said after a day-long debate on the bill. Now juveniles aged 16 years and above will be tried under laws for adults for heinous crimes.
But in a rare display of nonpartisan politics, MPs came together on Tuesday to pass what has come to be one of the most bitterly contested legal changes since the gang rape incident.
Giving details of the the bill Gandhi said “borstals” – a custodial institution for young offenders – would be set up under the proposed law to house juveniles accused of heinous crimes. Also, if a juvenile has committed the crime along with adults, then he or she could face legal action in a regular court and not in a special court.
“Juveniles’ involvement in crime is increasing the fastest”. He served only three years in custody, a sentence that many felt amounted to a severe miscarriage of justice. However, the renewed law would not be used retrospectively, Indian media reported. However, the Juvenile Justice Board would have to first assess the criminal and decide whether he should be tried as an adult or a child, the ministry said.
Former top cop Kiran Bedi tweeted, “But for Nirbhaya’s parents the Juvenile Justice Bill would never have been passed by the Rajya Sabha with the sense of urgency it did today”. “Though it has been delayed, we want this bill to be passed in parliament at the earliest”, Asha Devi told reporters.