New Delhi: Members from various parties on Tuesday expressed reservations about the juvenile justice amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha although all, except the CPM, later cleared it.
An overview of the stands taken by the parties and the arguments offered:
Congress: The party was divided but eventually supported the bill, changing the stance it had taken in the morning before the House met.
None of the six Congress members who intervened in the discussion specifically suggested a select committee referral but most of them expressed doubts about the bill.
The sharpest critic among them was Rajiv Gowda, who warned of the possibility of the courts striking the amendment down as anti-children.
Gowda questioned the claims about increasing juvenile crime, arguing minors were responsible for only 1.2 per cent of crimes.
He feared that parents keen on defending family honour might misuse the law to punish boys engaged in consensual sex with their daughters.
Maneka Gandhi leaves Parliament after the bill was passed on Tuesday. Picture by Prem Singh
Eventually, senior member Anand Sharma underscored the need to take a carefully considered and unanimous view on the bill.
Asked about the change of heart, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, later said: "The whole country was divided; experts and media too were divided. We wanted it to be sent to a select committee but we changed our position."
He added: "Positions change overnight. The government wanted this bill to be passed, the majority of members were in favour and hence we supported the bill."
CPM: Ritabrata Banerjee said the need was to define "the intensity of the crime -heinous crime needs to be defined, not the age".
He added: "The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) requires all signatory countries to treat every child under the age of 18 years as equal. The provision of treating a juvenile as an adult contravenes the convention."
But women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi, batting for the bill, and some other members countered Banerjee. They said the UNCRC allows countries to set their own age limits, which is how several developed nations treat offenders much younger than 18 as adults in the context of certain crimes.
Nominated: The first to make a clear demand for referring the bill to a select committee was nominated member Anu Aga, who contended that a juvenile committing a crime was a reflection of society's failure.
"If a 14-year-old commits a crime, will we in future bring down the age further?" Aga asked, echoing the CPM logic.
Samajwadi Party: Ravi Prakash Verma argued that piecemeal remedies and stringent laws alone would not address societal issues that create young criminals.
Janata Dal United: Kahkashan Perween said: "You think children know the law? (If they don't) how can it be a deterrence then?"
She and several others also cited the poor condition of correctional facilities for children.
NCP: Vandana Chavan cited research to argue that some young people engage in risky behaviour because of an underdeveloped brain.
She added that even the Justice J.S. Verma committee, set up to recommend ways of speeding trial and increasing punishment for sexual assault, was against treating juveniles as adults whatever the gravity of the crime.
(Later, a parliamentary standing committee had echoed the view but the government made only minor changes to the draft.)
DMK: Kanimozhi said there was no need to hurry the bill through. "Security is important but so is the future of our children," she said.
Outside the House, senior lawyer Rebecca John expressed incredulity that an act brought in by an NDA government (of Atal Bihari Vajpayee) in 2000 in line with an international convention was being amended by another NDA dispensation. "I don't understand what has changed since 2000," she said.
"India earned high praise globally for its 2000 act," said Anant Kumar Asthana, juvenile justice lawyer and child rights activist.
"Both the US and the UK have been criticised widely for having the provision of judicial waiver, which allows children below 18 to be tried as adults. While these countries are rolling back such laws, we are following them blindly."