PRI welcomes the decision by the Supreme Court of India to uphold the Juvenile Justice Act (2000) and not to lower the age of the child in criminal cases.
On 17 July 2013, the Court rejected petitions which requested amending the Juvenile Justice Act to lower the age of the child. If successful, the amendment would have allowed children of 16 years to be tried as adults and receive adult sentences, including the death penalty. International standards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which India is a signatory, state that the age of the child should be set at 18 years of age.
The petitions were lobbied following the gang rape and death of a woman in Delhi in December 2012, where one of the accused was 17 years old. The case triggered a nationwide debate on a number of issues and led to calls for the age of the child to be reduced. In general, public outrage at the case has led to the desire for harsher sentencing for children in serious cases.
Over 75 local and international NGOs, academics and lawyers joined together to campaign to the relevant government ministries and judicial committees to maintain the provisions in the Juvenile Justice Act. In addition, the campaign stated that amending the law would set a dangerous trend that would affect hundreds of adolescents currently entitled to rehabilitative services under current legislation. They highlighted that investing in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation is the most prudent and effective way to ensure public safety, and that ensuring accountability for crimes committed by juveniles should be grounded in child psychology, children’s human rights and an understanding of the socioeconomic and other circumstances that lead to their actions.
PRI was glad to be able to contribute to this positive outcome, endorsing the campaign against the lowering of the age, spearheaded by the Centre for Child and the Law at the National Law School of India University, and co-hosting an International Colloquium on Juvenile Justice with HAQ Centre for Child Rights in New Delhi in March 2013. 60 participants from 14 countries, including statutory bodies, academics, lawyers and practitioners, attended this event which generated widespread media coverage in India.
For more information on these issues, see PRI’s briefing on Minimum age of criminal responsibility and the 10 Point Plan for Fair and Effective Criminal Justice for Children.