India's new Bill gets tough on juvenile offenders

Indian protesters at a demonstration against the release of a juvenile rapist in New Delhi on Dec 21, 2015.
Indian protesters at a demonstration against the release of a juvenile rapist in New Delhi on Dec 21, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI • India has tightened its laws for teenagers accused of serious crimes, amid outrage over the release of a juvenile convicted in the 2012 Delhi gang rape that shocked the nation.

Sixteen- to 18-year-olds who commit heinous crimes, such as murder or rape, can now be tried as adults.

"I think the ayes have it, the ayes have it, the ayes have it. The Bill has been passed," Mr P.J. Kurien, Speaker of the Upper House of Parliament, said yesterday after a day-long debate on the Bill. The Lower House had already approved the proposal.

The youth, who cannot be named under Indian law as he was below 18 at the time of the attack, was released on Sunday after serving the maximum sentence of three years in a reform home. His release sparked outrage and debate over whether the country was too soft on young offenders.

He was convicted of the attack on a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus on Dec 16, 2012. The victim, physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh, died of injuries sustained during the brutal, hour-long assault 13 days later and has become a symbol of endemic sex crimes against women in the patriarchal country.

LOOPHOLE PLUGGED

I think the ayes have it, the ayes have it, the ayes have it. The Bill has been passed.

MR P.J. KURIEN, Speaker of India's Upper House of Parliament, after a day-long debate on the Bill which allows young offenders who commit heinous crimes to be tried as adults

Four other men, all adults, convicted in the case have been sentenced to death. The sixth man implicated in the case died in police custody in 2013.

While the amended law cannot be applied retrospectively to cover the convict, its supporters say it will act as a deterrent.

Critics, however, argue that harsher laws in the wake of the fatal gang rape have failed to deter crimes against women, which they say are largely due to deeply patriarchal attitudes.

Reported crimes against women - including rape and sexual assault - rose 10 per cent last year from 2013. More than 38,000 cases were registered against juveniles last year, rising from 35,861 in 2013 and 31,973 a year earlier, lawmakers were told this month. It is unclear if the numbers have risen because of better reporting or more crimes.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2015, with the headline 'India's new Bill gets tough on juvenile offenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe