Changing the law or changing mindsets?

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Will the recently amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act deter those who perpetrate violence against women?

On 22 December 2015 the Indian parliament passed an amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act that changed the Indian legal system in the context of juveniles forever. The bill now allows for juveniles between the ages of 16 to 18 years to be treated as adults for serious crimes like rape or murder, serve their sentence in jail and/or be awarded the death penalty. This is a drastic change from the earlier provision where minors could only be sentenced to a maximum of three years in a reform facility. The release of the juvenile rapist in the December 16, 2012 Nirbhaya case had triggered a massive debate on this issue. This juvenile rapist was released from the reformation house and the changed law cannot be retroactively applied on him. In fact, a day after the court allowed the minor to leave the reformation house and dismissed the plea made by DCW Chairperson Swati Maliwal challenging the juvenile’s release, the Indian parliament amended the Juvenile Justice Act.

Is this fair to Nirbhaya? Is it fair for the legal system to amend a law a day later than it was actually required, thereby allowing a young man who brutalized a young woman to roam free after just three years? Is this justice?

India being party to international conventions like the Convention On the Rights of the Child (CRC) cannot create any law that goes against the mandate of the convention. The new law can be seen as a violation of CRC’s mandate as it fails to treat all the children below the age of 18 equally and creates different laws for children below the age of 16 and above 16. Is it fair for India to differentiate between its children? Should India have broken its international obligations? Is it right to say that children below the age of 16 don’t know what they are doing and have no criminal intent while a 16 year old knows what he is doing and has a criminal bent of mind when committing crimes like murder and rape?

On the other hand is the increasing number of juvenile crimes post the Nirbhaya case. How is this changed law going to change the everyday lives of women in India who face acts of violence? Is it enough to change the law? Or is change going to come from changing mindsets?

Women in India will feel safe when we overcome the patriarchal mindset that lets boys think that acts of violence against women is the “manly” thing to do. PRIA works to change the mindsets of young boys and girls to break this circle of violence.

Kadam Badhate Chalo…will soon be launching in your city. Join us in our fight to prevent violence against women – in homes, workplaces and all public spaces.

With inputs from Ishani Mehta, a 5th year law student of O.P. Jindal University who was interning in the Making Workplaces Safe programme of PRIA’s gender unit.

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