Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government has issued a draft Juvenile Justice Bill that provides for trying persons aged between 16 and 18 years as adults in matters of heinous crimes.
Child rights activists and legal experts have criticised the move, arguing that juveniles in Jammu and Kashmir deserve special sympathy and consideration due to being “children of conflict”.
As per the new draft law, the age of criminal liability will be reduced to 16 years in case of heinous offences. “In case of a heinous offence alleged to have been committed by a child, who has completed or is above the age of sixteen years, the Board shall conduct a preliminary assessment with regard to his mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which he allegedly committed the offence, and may pass an order in accordance with the provisions of subsection (3) of section 18,” reads the draft, a copy of which is with Kashmir Reader.
Earlier, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children’s) Act was introduced in 2013 with no provision of lowering of age. However, its implementation is still in the infancy stage even after five years.
Experts have opposed the new proposal saying that the age bar should be kept as per the 2013 Act. They have expressed apprehensions about misuse of the law and violation of rights of children. They say that minors may be charged, as many have been in the past, with “attempt to murder” and “rioting” after being caught during stone-pelting clashes with government forces.
“The new draft of J&K Juvenile Justice Bill is similar to the central act which was enacted in 2015. However, in this case the law can be misused because in Kashmir, children are children of conflict. Law-enforcing agencies usually fake the age of minors and detain them illegally. In such a situation, the provision can be misused,” said Dr Sheikh Showkat, a legal expert and Head of Department of Law at Central University of Kashmir.
He said the existing act is also being misused as children are not being tried in special courts.
Child rights activist Qurat Masoodi termed the amendments as “politically motivated”. She said, “It will not give chance to children to reform. It will snatch their innocence. We will fight this strongly in the best interests of children.”
Another activist, Kalpana Tikku, said it would be disastrous to even contemplate bringing down the age of criminal liability to 16 years.
“In J&K, children get affected by the prevailing violence at early age. Most of the children, whether they realise it or not, are suffering from mental health problems and PTSD issues like anxiety,” she said.
According to Tikku, a large number of children fall in the category of “conflict with law”.
“Instead of reducing the age for a juvenile, it would be better if more attention is paid to bringing reforms in the prevailing act and concentrating on care programmes and reformation programmes. Otherwise, this amendment would only increase the numbers of offenders and also not give them a chance to be rehabilitated. It is certainly not in the interest of the welfare of children and should not be even mulled upon,” she said.
The draft law was framed during the PDP-BJP government but could not be brought into the public domain due to opposition from various officials in the law department. Governor NN Vohra also rejected it after it was sent to him. But now the new governor’s administration has formally issued the draft Bill.