India bill to try minors as adults after Delhi gang rape

Indian policemen escort the juvenile accused (face covered) in the December 2012 Delhi gang rape outside the juvenile court in Delhi on August 19, 2013 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Calls have been growing louder for stricter punishment for minors ever since the 2012 Delhi gang rape

India's cabinet has approved a bill to allow children over 16 to be tried as adults for crimes like rape and murder.

The move follows calls for stricter punishment for juveniles after a 17-year-old was among those convicted of gang rape and murder in Delhi in 2012.

At present, juvenile courts can jail those under 18 for at most three years.

Under the bill, minors convicted in adult courts would face longer jail terms but would be spared the death penalty or life imprisonment.

The bill still needs the approval of parliament.

The gang-rape and murder of the 23-year-old student on a bus in the Indian capital caused international outrage and forced the Indian authorities to introduce tough new anti-rape laws.

Last week, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi told parliament that the new bill was aimed as a deterrent for juvenile offenders and to protect victims' rights.

Child rights organisations, however, have criticised the bill.

India's National Commission for Protection of Child Rights described the proposed amendments as "retrograde in nature and against the principles of reformative and restorative justice".

Amnesty International India has appealed to the government to reject the bill.

"Children can and do sometimes commit crimes as violent as those committed by adults. And the pain and anger of a victim or their family may well be the same regardless of whether a crime was committed by a child or an adult," Shashikumar Velath, deputy chief executive of Amnesty, said.

"But children's culpability, even when they commit 'adult' crimes, is different because of their immaturity. Their punishment should acknowledge this difference, reflect children's special capacity for reform and rehabilitation, and be grounded in an understanding of adolescent psychology."

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