New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the juvenile justice amendment bill which paves the way for children in the age group of 16-18 years to be tried as adults if they commit a heinous crime.
Opposition parties and child rights experts, however, termed the move a "disaster" and claimed that the government used its "brute majority" to get the bill through.
The amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014, which would replace the existing Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, is now likely to be taken up in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
The new bill clearly defines and classifies offences as petty, serious and heinous, and defines differentiated processes for each category.
The ministry of women and child development introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha in August 2014, but it was referred to the standing committee which recommended keeping the legally defined age of juvenile at 18 years.
However, the government bypassed the recommendations of the committee and decided to go ahead with reduction of age of juvenile offenders to 16 years when found involved in a heinous crime.
The bill was passed after the government agreed to delete a clause which said that "any person, who is apprehended after completing the age of 21 years, for committing any serious or heinous offence when such person was between the age of 16 to 18 years, then he shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be tried as an adult".
More than 40 official amendments moved by the government to the bill were adopted.
Replying to the debate on the bill, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said she has tried to be "pro-child" and made efforts to strike a balance between justice to victims and rights of children.
She underlined that under the proposed law, any juvenile aged between 16 years and 18 years will stay in an institution meant for housing adolescent offenders, till the age of 21 years whatever be the sentence.
Opposing the bill vociferously, children's rights activist Ved Kumari said: "This amendment is not justified. It is just their (NDA's) brute numbers which have let to this bill be passed".
"The more number of cases (of rapes) which the minister quoted is due to the expansion of the definition of rape. I don't understand the logic behind the bill. This is a disaster," the activist, who is also a professor at the law faculty of the Delhi University, told IANS.
Lawyer Karuna Nandy said: "It is extremely unfortunate and I foresee an increase in violent crime. There will be a hardening effect on young boys who have gone to an adult jail."
"Having gone to an adult jail, there will not have a base to fall back on. They will have strong criminal networks. There will not be any reformative focus on the juvenile justice system," she told IANS.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted: "Attempts to inject humanity into Juvenile Justice Bill crushed by government's brute majority in Lok Sabha. To kids, suit-boot sarkar is equal to brute-jhoot sarkar".
Tharoor had made a strong speech opposing the bill while it was being debated on Wednesday.
Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said the reduction in the juvenile age for heinous crimes would result in the children of tribals and scheduled castes being victimised.
The juvenile justice amendment bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday. Following are some of its salient points:
* The bill permits juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous offences.
* Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees would be constituted in each district.
* The juvenile justice board will conduct a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a juvenile offender is to be sent for rehabilitation or be tried as an adult and the child welfare committee will determine institutional care for children in need of care and protection.
* Eligibility of adoptive parents and the procedure for adoption have been included in the bill.
* Penalties for cruelty against a child, offering a narcotic substance to a child, and abduction or selling a child have been prescribed.