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Children must not be treated as adults in cases of serious crimes: Amnesty

New Delhi: The Indian government must reject proposed amendments to laws that could allow children to be treated as adults in cases of serious crimes, Amnesty International India said on Wednesday.

“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,” said Shashikumar Velath of Amnesty India.

“But children’s culpability, even when they commit ‘adult’ crimes, is different because of their immaturity," he said in a statement.

"Their punishment should acknowledge this difference, reflect children’s special capacity for reform and rehabilitation, and be grounded in an understanding of adolescent psychology.”

The women and child development ministry said in June that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, would be repealed and re-enacted.

A bill is likely to be introduced in parliament soon to replace the act.

Under the bill, in cases where children aged between 16 and 18 are accused of serious crimes including murder, rape and acid attacks, authorities will conduct an assessment of factors including the “premeditated nature” of the offence and “the child’s ability to understand the consequences of the offence”.

Based on the assessment, children can be prosecuted in an ordinary criminal court, and punished as adults if convicted. They cannot be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

Under international law, anyone under the age of 18 is a child, Amnesty said.

Any amendment that would lower the age at which juvenile justice rules would be applicable to below 18 years would violate India’s international legal obligations, Amnesty said.

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