New law will not curb juvenile crime, church says

Parliament criticized for passing law in haste.

New Delhi: (UCAN)

Indian church agencies said lowering the age so that a child can be tried as an adult will not curb juvenile crime.

"Lowering the age will not help. If a crime has been committed then the accused should be tried irrespective of the age," Father Savari Raj, director of Chetnalaya, the social arm of the Delhi Archdiocese, told ucanews.com.

The Indian parliament passed the Juvenile Justice Bill Dec. 22, allowing for the trial beginning at 16 years old for those charged with serious crimes.

In India, a person younger than 18 is considered a juvenile and is exempt from harsh punishments for serious crimes and is instead sent to reform homes for three years.

Under the new bill, a person between 16 -18 years can face imprisonment for up to seven years.

The Juvenile Justice Board will decide if an accused minor should be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act or in regular trial court.

The clamor to lower the age for trial gained momentum after the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in a bus by six drunk men, including a teenager, in December 2012.

The case hit the international headlines as Indians witnessed mass protests for days demanding security for women.

One of the convicts was 17 years old at that time of the crime and escaped the death penalty that was given to the men.

The teen was sent to a juvenile home for three years and walked free earlier this week, triggering outrage among Indians.

Father Raj said that the government passed the bill in haste and under pressure from the public. "Now if a child of 15 of 14 years of age commits such crime, will the government again rush to amend the bill?"

Various political parties and social activists also believe the bill was passed emotionally and in haste.

Father Frederick D'Souza, executive director of Caritas India, expressed concern over "the increasing bias against children."

"Everybody is talking about lowering the age and punishing children but society should not forget that sometimes it is the adults who push the children to commit crimes," he said.

As far as those who commit heinous crimes are concerned, the priest said there are some children who reach maturity (physically and mentally) faster than others and they are fully aware of what they are doing.

"So age has nothing to do with the crime. Case to case understanding of the culprits about their maturity levels is a must for a fair trial and if proven guilty, he/she has to go through the punishment like the adults," he said.

Source: UCAN

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