Women’s Group Urge President to Return Juvenile Justice Bill
THE Rajya Sabha has passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill on December 24 in the name of safety of women in India while in fact this law if passed, will put safety of women in jeopardy as never before. We appeal to you to not sign this Bill and send it back to both houses of parliament for the reasons given below:
CHILDREN SENT TO PRISONS WILL
COME OUT AS HARDENED CRIMINALS
The Bill provides for dealing with 16-18 years old children as adults to be subjected to adult punishment. In case of rape, it means that they may be kept in custody from mandatory minimum of 7 to 20 years as provided by Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. While the Bill provides that a child tried as adult will remain in the place of safety till he attains the age of 21 years and then an assessment will take place of his progress and he will be released if reformed. If he is not reformed, he will go to the adult prison for completing the remainder of his sentence. Going by the recent experience surrounding the release of the juvenile involved in the Nirbhaya gang rape case, we have been made to believe that no efforts were made to reform him; that he had been further radicalised during his stay in the special home; and that his release is a danger to society. If this is true despite the mandate of the current Juvenile Justice Act 2000 to put the system for reformation and rehabilitation of juveniles in place, no such system is in place, there is even lesser possibility of such a system being in place when penalisation has replaced the reformative approach towards children by the new legislation. Hence, most of the children will almost mechanically end up in prison. It virtually means that a 16-18 year old child found to have committed a violent rape and tried and convicted as an adult will grow up in the company of other children committing rape or other heinous offences for the next 10 to 20 years – first in the place of safety and then in prison and that will leave him a hardened criminal and a threat to all in the society and not only women.
NO OPTION BUT TO
LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME
Additionally, a young person, even if found to have reformed and released at the age of 21 years, like others who did not reform and will be released after serving their full sentence, will have no occasion to be integrated in the society as stigma and disqualifications attached to conviction will apply to him and all others. There will be no option for them to then network with other offenders and lead a life of crime – the only thing they would have learnt in prison which have been referred to as the universities of crime.
We disassociate ourselves from this harsh legislation which has been brought on the basis of hysterical campaign whipped up by the media and the minister for women and child development using the grief of Nirbhaya’s parents.
We share the grief and have full empathy with parents and families of victims of violence. It is however important that we continue to place the issue of violence against women and children at the centre of discussions and not "victimhood". We understand that one instance of sexual violence in a family sometimes takes a toll on the family as a whole and it is years before they can recover. In our struggle against violence we must be aware and ensure that we do not reinforce victimhood and prolong this suffering.
The public pressure has been generated on the basis of several myths, like: juvenile crime is on the rise; women are unsafe because children are not punished for the offences they commit against children; that the only way to protect women is by imposing harsh punishment on children to give a lesson to other children in deterrence; America and other civilized countries try violent juvenile as adults.
NO SUBSTANTIVE INCREASE
IN JUVENILE CRIME
The crime in India published by National Crime Records Bureau, ministry of home affairs, government of India has reported that in the last three years, contribution of juveniles to total crime has remained static at 1.2 percent. Children have accounted for only 3.7 percent, 4.4 percent and 4.7 percent of total rapes in the last three years and the remaining 96.3 percent, 95.6 percent and 94.3 percent of rapes have been committed by adults. More than 90 percent of rapes are committed by persons known to the women and most of them are committed at homes. Hence, there is no substance in the hype that juveniles are posing a threat to safety of women.
DESPITE NO PUNISHMENT,
JUVENILE CRIME HAS NOT INCREASED
India has started on the path of no punishment to children in 1960 with the passing of the first Children Act by the parliament applicable only to the union territories. It became the universal norm for the whole of India with the passing of the Juvenile Justice Act 1986. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 extended the ban on punishment to both boys and girls till the age of 18 years. Despite no punishment for any offence by children, only 33,562 children were arrested in 2014 out of the estimated population of close to 44 crore children. The claim that juvenile crime has increased by 50 percent in the last ten years is based on figures used without context. When 19,229 children were arrested in 2004, the total number of children was between 41-42 crores. In 2014, when 33,526 children have been arrested, the total number of children is between 43-44 crores. Hence, it is wrong to claim that there has been an increase of 50 percent but it has been used to whip the passion of people against children and create a sense of panic.
IT IS A MYTH THAT HARSH
In the wake of the movement after Nirbhaya gang rape, amendments were made in the Indian Penal Code and very harsh punishments, including mandatory minimum punishment of 20 years and death penalty were provided. However, the crimes against women have not decreased. Rapes by adults have increased from 18,233 in 2004 to 48,193 in 2014. The conviction rate in 2014 for rape has been a mere 24 percent. Be it the women in Muzaffarnagar, Bhagana or Bastar, or the women employees of Tehelka or TERI, they all await justice.
America started excluding its children from juvenile justice in the wake of panic created by the high rate of juvenile crime, ie, 8,476 out of one lakh (compared to less than 3 out of one lakh in India in 2014) in 1996. After practicing exclusion, 10,20,334 children were arrested for an offence in 2011, compared to 33,526 children arrested in India in 2014. Since 2005, the American penal response to juvenile crime has been folding up. 23 states in the last eight years have brought about 46 legislations to shift children back to juvenile justice from the adult system after presentation of data of the failure of exclusion which led to higher offending rates in their later life among children sent to adult system compared to juvenile dealt within the juvenile justice system coupled with the findings of adolescent brain science. Sending adolescents to prison only worsens their chance of reformation and reintegration in society.
We stood in solidarity to commemorate the victim of the December 2012 gangrape, as well as all the other known and unknown women and girls who face sexual and other forms of abuse. Such justice can only truly be achieved in a society that is both ethical and humane, and in which the survivor and her health and freedom are the focus of the procedures of the criminal justice, medical, and social welfare systems but fair trial and rights of the accused are also not compromised.
The relationship between women and children is that of nurture and care and that is why the Constitution refers to women and children in the same Article being inseparable. Women’s safety is not increased by putting children in prison. Pitting children against women is against nature as well as Constitution.
We state unequivocally that we are against sending 16-18 year old to prison for any offence.
We believe in reformative and reparative rather than retributive justice,which gives a chance for people – specially in case of all juveniles till the age of 18 years without exception – to change and turn their lives around.We reiterate our demand for certainty of justice and not severity of punishment.
We reject the logic of ‘instant’ vigilante justice and instead seek to strengthen the systems and due processes of justice, to ensure that these work for and not against victims.
We demand that the governments at the state and centre uphold their obligations under the Constitution of India and under internationalhuman rights covenants to guarantee women and girls the right to equality, freedom and justice.
Once again, we reiterate our appeal to you president, not to sign this draconian legislation which will expose our children to the deleterious effects of prison and deprive them of any opportunity of reformation and rehabilitation and send it back to both the houses of parliament for reconsideration without passion and emotions whipped up by false panic and misinformation, but with Constitutional rationality and rights of children to opportunities for survival and all round development.