By Himanshi Dhawan, TNN | Dec 31, 2012, 05.49 AM IST

Minors could face death penalty if law amended
Centre mulls death penalty for ‘rarest of rare’ rape cases.

NEW DELHI: Jolted by the extreme cruelty unleashed on Nirbhaya by the only juvenile among the six accused in the Delhi gang-rape case, the government may be looking at enhanced punishment for minors — even a waiver of the delinquent’s age by six months to a year — keeping in view the severity of the crime.

While this review comes too late for the Delhi gang-rape case as it cannot be applied with retrospective effect, the shift is significant because heinousness of the crime committed rather than the exact age of the accused will determine the punishment.

If the government does carry out amendments to enhance the punishment for minors guilty of heinous crimesjuveniles could even face death penalty.

The women and child development ministry that is reviewing the Juvenile Justice Act, is looking at treating juveniles aged 17 or more who are guilty of heinous or violent crimes as adults. “We can have a provision by which six months or a year of the juvenile’s age can be waived if the crime committed is severe in nature, like in this case. If the juvenile has committed a violent or serious crime he can be tried under law as an adult,” said WCD minister Krishna Tirath.

At present, under the Act, a juvenile accused has to be kept in a juvenile correction home or any other reformatory centre for minors. S/he faces a separate trial under the JJ Act and the maximum sentence that can be given is only three years.

The use of death penalty for crimes committed by people younger than 18 years is prohibited under the international human rights law, yet some countries still execute child offenders. Such executions are few compared to the total number of executions across the world. Since 1990,Amnesty International has documented 87 executions of child offenders in nine countries. Several of these countries, including the US, have changed their laws to exclude the practice.

The ministry of women and child development that is reviewing the Juvenile Justice Act is considering such a provision to treat guilty minors aged 17 or more like adults.