Lower juvenile age limit to 16 years: states

FP
Many state governments, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Goa, proposed on Friday that the law should be amended to reduce the upper age limit for juveniles from the present 18 years to 16 years.

Attending a day-long conference of state DGPs and home secretaries, convened by the Union Home Ministry to discuss measures to check crimes against women, a few states like Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh and Goa also suggested that rape convicts should be given death penalty. However, some argued that this would bring down the conviction rate in such cases.

The demand for death penalty has gained ground following the gangrape of the 23-year-old in a moving bus in Delhi on December 16. One of the accused in the case has claimed that he is below 18 years of age. The Indian Express had reported on Friday that the UP government was likely to propose that only those below 16 years should be treated as juveniles.

The states today supported the Centre's move to make sexual harassment and molestation non-bailable offences and enhance punishment for the crimes. They also agreed with the Centre's proposal to provide "no remission or parole" to rape convicts.

Addressing the gathering, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said: "It is time to introspect. The number of crimes against women and weaker sections are continuing and showing an increasing trend. It is apparent that legislations are only part of the solution but the principal difficulty lies at the implementation level, where sometimes the ground realities become a barrier for effective implementation of the law."

He added: "Our primary objective is to identify such barriers, suggest modifications required in our laws and in the procedures and methodology of investigation, so that trial is concluded early and the guilty punished in a time-bound manner."

Citing statistics which showed that the conviction rate is just 23 per cent in cases of crime against women, Shinde called for a "reappraisal of the entire system, the role of all our stakeholders, the adequacy of our laws, the effectiveness of enforcement at the cutting edge level, the need for increased awareness and sensitivity starting at the school level and covering all people residing at the margins of our society."

Calling for stricter laws, Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath said there should be a provision for death penalty in rape cases where the victim "is no longer able to enjoy a normal state of existence and functioning".

The chief secretaries and DGPs also suggested several measures to enhance punishment and improve conviction rate. "We have taken the suggestions, including the proposal to lower the age of juveniles. They will be brought before the Justice J S Verma committee. There is also consensus among the states and Centre to set up fast-track courts to deal with crimes against women and we will soon start implementing them," said Shinde.

Mizoram DGP Alok Verma suggested that the indecent representation of women (prohibition) Act, 1986, should be amended and brought at par with certain provisions of the IT Act.

Among other proposals that were put forward were: setting up a special wing in the prosecution branch to deal with crimes against women, setting up fast track courts and sensitising the judiciary.

Union Home Secretary R K Singh urged strict action against policemen who refuses to register a complaint. He said the Centre proposes to increase the number of women in police forces to 33 per cent.

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