Juvenile Justice Bill: Why is it Women Rights vs Child Rights
Demonstrators attend a candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of Jyoti Singh’s gang rape, in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)
Demonstrators attend a candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of Jyoti Singh’s gang rape, in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)

Juvenile Justice Bill: Why is it Women Rights vs Child Rights

With the Juvenile Justice Bill 2014 being passed by the Rajya Sabha yesterday, it is clear that the lynching mob sentiment fuelled by the mainstream media has prevailed over scientific evidence and statistics.

A certain section of the society (though small in numbers) such as lawyers, child rights activists and journalists vociferously opposed the bill citing violation of the UN Convention of Rights of the Child and Articles 14, 15(3) and 21 of the Constitution.

Whereas, a majority section supported the bill in the name of women safety and arguments like why should rapists get away with small sentences, punishment should be according to crime and not age, if a child can rape then he is mature enough, et al.

The juvenile convict in the 16 December gangrape case. (Photo: Reuters)
The juvenile convict in the 16 December gangrape case. (Photo: Reuters)
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Vulnerable Children in Jeopardy

The major issue with the Bill and the attached public sentiment is that, both have pitted women rights and child rights against each other.

The public has unfortunately directed all its ire against juvenile laws – which has resulted in jeopardising the future of millions of vulnerable children.

Nobody wants to talk about what pushed the 17-year-old juvenile to crimes. Nobody wants to talk about the failure of governments to provide a good education in government schools. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that the budgetary allocation for Integrated Child Development Scheme was reduced by 50 per cent – from Rs 16,000 crore to just Rs 8,000 crore. Nobody wants to talk about how teenage couples wanting to have sex may face issues if they are below 18.

Activists along with Nirbhaya’s mother (second from left) staging a protest against the release of juvenile delinquent in the Nirbhaya case, in New Delhi on Saturday. (Photo: PTI/Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
Activists along with Nirbhaya’s mother (second from left) staging a protest against the release of juvenile delinquent in the Nirbhaya case, in New Delhi on Saturday. (Photo: PTI/Altered by The Quint)

But suddenly, everyone wants teenagers, one of the most vulnerable demographics, to face stringent laws.

If stringent laws were a deterrent, then we would never have had cases of child trafficking, drug trafficking, kidnapping, murders and rapes. Despite the strict laws, these crimes continue to happen. Will the government and those supporting the Bill give the guarantee that the number of rapes by juveniles will totally stop after this law?

56 per cent of juveniles belong to families having an annual income of Rs 25,000 or less, and 53 per cent of them are either illiterate or educated till primary school.

This is not to say that economically disadvantaged juveniles have a right to commit crimes, but their background and vulnerability have to be given due consideration. They are likely to be more influenced by hardened criminals and commit crimes than probably a teenager who attends a good school and has more affluent parents.

Just like every woman DESERVES to be safe on roads at night, similarly, every child deserves a good education, every child deserves to be loved and cuddled by his/her parents, every child deserves to play video games and read good books.

The Pitting of Women’s Rights Against Child Rights?

Let us rewind to December 16, 2012. According to reports, Jyoti Singh and her friend, saw the movie and tried to board an auto from the Select City Walk mall, but the autowallahs refused to go, post which, they boarded an off-duty charter bus in which the horrific incident happened.

Demonstrators shout slogans during a candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi December 16, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Demonstrators shout slogans during a candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi December 16, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Would Jyoti would be alive today if some autowallah had complied with her request? The answer is probably yes.

Yet NOBODY is talking about the fact that autos shouldn’t refuse women. No one is debating the point that successive governments have failed to make cities safer for women. Nobody wants to protest against policemen who refuse to file rape and sexual harassment complaints despite stringent mandates. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that husbands can rape their wives as marital rape is not criminalised.

In her interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, Union Minister for Child & Development Maneka Gandhi mentioned creating separate spaces for juvenile convicts in prisons. Moreover, in her Rajya Sabha speech yesterday, she talked about having reformative services, including mental health experts for the preliminary assessment of the child post crime.

 Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi speaks in Lok Sabha. (Photo: ANI screenshot)
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi speaks in Lok Sabha. (Photo: ANI screenshot)

India faces an 87 per cent shortage of mental health professionals, according to the data tabled in the Parliament, but of course, she never addressed how this will be solved.

To conclude, here are two data points to consider, which will throw light on the seriousness of the government to work for women rights and support them.

In 2014, the government had announced setting up rape crisis centres in each district – but come 2015, it decided that it will only build 36 of the proposed 660 centres.

Out of the Rs 3,000 crore Nirbhaya Fund set up in 2013, only Rs 636 crore has been allocated (no details of how much has been spent or not) for various projects, according to a reply given by Maneka Gandhi in the Parliament recently.

Unfortunately, the burden of the government’s failure to ensure safety for women has to be borne by vulnerable teenagers in the coming times.

(Devanik Saha is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.)

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