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India Allows 16-Year-Olds To Be Tried As Adults Amid Outrage Over Delhi Rapist's Release

The Indian parliament passed the controversial Juvenile Justice Bill under mounting public pressure after the juvenile convicted in the 2012 Delhi gang rape was freed.

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Saurabh Das / AP

The mother, center, of the victim of the fatal 2012 gang rape that shook India, at a protest against the release of the juvenile convicted in the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman.

The Indian parliament passed the controversial Juvenile Justice Bill on Tuesday which allows juveniles between the ages of 16-18 to be tried as adults for "heinous offenses."

The hurried passage of the bill — which was first introduced in August 2014 — comes in the wake of national outrage and public pressure following the release of the juvenile convicted in the notorious 2012 Delhi gang rape that shook India and the world.

The youngest of the six men convicted in the rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh — who was known as Nirbhaya (fearless) before being publicly identified by her parents — was released on Dec. 20, after serving his three-year sentence in a remand home as he was a few months short of 18 at the time of the crime. The Supreme Court of India on Monday refused to block his release noting the current law. Of the remaining five who were accused, four were sentenced to death by hanging while the fifth died in prison.

On Dec. 16, 2012, Singh, a medical student, and her male friend were attacked by the six men on a bus. Singh was repeatedly raped and sustained severe injuries after being penetrated with a metal rod. She died two days after the attack that sparked huge protests across the country.

Singh's parents were at the forefront of protests demanding a change in the juvenile law after their daughter's youngest rapist was freed. The bill will not affect his release.

"I am satisfied, but sad that my daughter couldn't get justice," Singh's mother, who was present during the debate in the upper house of India's parliament, told reporters after the bill was passed. Singh's father said the bill was "a tribute to our daughter."

The bill was passed after a heated debate in the parliament with some political parties staging a walkout during proceedings, The Indian Express reported. Those who opposed its passage argued for the bill to be further examined by a select committee.

"Today you are demanding the juvenile age to be reduced from 18 to 16," said Sitaram Yechury, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). "What if tomorrow a 15-year old commits a horrendous crime?"

Defending the bill, one politician said, "Those who want to satisfy their sexual urge should get married. No place for rapists."

Maneka Gandhi, the women and child development minister, who first introduced the bill in 2014, said it was "compassionate, nuanced and comprehensive," The Times of India reported. "We may not be able to do anything about the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case but we can deter many other boys," Gandhi said.

The long-awaited bill's rushed passage by Indian lawmakers under mounting public pressure is reminiscent of the government's scramble to pass India's stringent anti-rape law in 2013 in the wake of widespread outrage over the 2012 gang rape. The law provided for tougher sentences to rapists and death sentences to repeat offenders. However, it was criticized for failing to recognize all rape victims, regardless of gender.

Now, women and child rights' advocates and lawyers are criticizing the Juvenile Justice Bill for letting public sentiment and a need for "vengeance" win over concerns about juvenile rehabilitation and for pitting women's rights against children's rights.

Bad cases make for bad laws. We were knee-jerked into making flawed new rape law post-Dec 16, now making another one with #juvenilejustice

If one follows the Bill's debate, irrespective of the outcome, it's disappointing to see child rights being pegged against women's rights.

#JuvenileBill Passed! None across the party spectrum were willing to pass it but succumbed under public pressure ..Moral Of the Story ?

Sadly, we've allowed hyperventilating journalists & vocal mobs to shape law likely to the detriment of the poorest children around. #JJAct

Experts have argued that the law could also be misused by families or police looking to accuse teenagers who indulge in consensual sex.

Dear Youthiyas of India beaware, next time when you are caught having consensual sex, @quizderek has given cops BIG GUN to blow u off!

Others said that it was important for juveniles to be rehabilitated and reformed to avoid becoming repeat offenders.

Law's fine. JJ system needs to strengthen, not send abused, neglected, violent young folk to lifelong criminality. https://t.co/KDRF6ZAjbi

We should be building schools, not prisons for children: Child rights activist Shireen Vakil Miller to NDTV #NirbhayaLaw

Thanks, imp we get juvenile age right now so our daughters not attacked more when unreformed men leave adult prison. https://t.co/yVuOPX3gMy

Some pointed out that 16-year-olds who can't vote, get married or consent to sex, will be tried as adults.

Are we also reducing voting age, marriageable age limits & age of consent? Because the same logic applies. https://t.co/ZHsJMlF817

So you can't drink in Maharashtra until you're 25, but they want to try 16-year-olds as criminals?

However, several others, including public figures, tweeted their support for the bill.

Message of Rajya Sabha passing JuvenileJusticeBill under d watch of Nirbay's parents & public pressure is that persistent pressure can work

Passing of JJ Bill in Parliament today a great victory of public opinion and the undaunted efforts of Nirbhaya's mother

RajyaSabha passes #juvenilejustice bill in just 1 day.Politicians had to bow to public pressure.Thats the power of INDIA.Shd use more often








Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at tasneem.nashrulla@buzzfeed.com.

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