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India lowers age for trying juveniles accused of serious crimes

Lawmakers have passed a bill to reduce the age limit to try minors accused of serious crimes. The bill was passed following outrage after a youth convicted in the gruesome 2012 Delhi rape was released two days ago.

Members of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, passed the Juvenile Justice Bill on Tuesday. "I think the ayes have it, the ayes have it, the ayes have it. The bill has been passed," P.J. Kurien, Speaker of the upper house, announced at the end of the vote.

The new law, which is an amendment to the older Juvenile Justice Bill, will allow judges to sentence offenders between the ages of 16 and 18 to at least seven years in detention homes if they are convicted of "heinous crimes," including rape and murder.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development tweeted this message:

However, the Juvenile Justice Board would have to first assess the criminal and decide whether he should be tried as an adult or a child, the ministry said.

Parents of the gang rape victim, Jyoti Singh, were also present in parliament when lawmakers agreed to the new changes. Singh's mother told news channel CNN-IBN that she was happy the bill had been passed, but that justice for her daughter remained elusive.

However, the renewed law would not be used retrospectively, Indian media reported.

Reactions to the bill

2014 Nobel peace prize recipient and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi welcomed the change as positive.

However, some leaders, including Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the parliament was being too hasty.

Noted Indian journalist Shekhar Gupta called the new bill a "knee-jerk" reaction.

The Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, defended the new proposal, saying that a "more nuanced and compassionate law was not possible."

Six people were convicted for raping 23-year-old Jyoti Singh as she was traveling in a bus with her friend on December 16, 2012 in New Delhi. The driver of the bus committed suicide in prison two years ago. Four others were sentenced to death by hanging. The fifth offender, a juvenile when he committed the atrocity, was punished with three years' dentention in a special center for underage criminals.

He was set free on Sunday after India's Supreme Court rejected an appeal to keep him in custody. His release prompted widespread protests in India, with many people demanding that the age to try juveniles be reduced in the case of serious crimes.

mg/jm (Reuters, AFP)

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