Police in New Delhi, dubbed the rape capital of India, are running against time to file charge sheets against five of the six arrested in connection with the December 16 gang rape case.
A 23-year-old woman was brutally raped and beaten up in a moving bus in the national capital on the night of December 16.
The victim, who has become the focus of nationwide protests, lost her battle for life in a Singapore hospital earlier this week. She was cremated at a ceremony kept secret by the authorities after her dead body was brought from Singapore.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters in India have taken to the streets demanding the death penalty for the culprits.
Authorities have slapped murder and rape charges on five of the six accused, but the juvenile accused, who is reported to have been the most brutal of the lot, might just go scot-free thanks to India’s Juvenile Justice Act.
The minor accused, the cleaner of the bus in which the crime was committed, will turn 18 in four months.
However, he might just get away with a maximum of three years of counselling at a reformation house even as the boy confessed to both sexual and physical assault on the 23-year-old victim and was consequently also recognised in an identification parade.
The law states that any offence committed by a person below 18 years of age is an act of innocence and the juvenile cannot be tried under provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). He would be exempted from prosecution and punishment, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on Rights of a Child.
Such cases are dealt by the Juvenile Justice Board and the accused are provided free legal aid. A bone test on the alleged rapist has proved that he was below 18 years of age at the time of crime.
India’s Juvenile Justice Act was amended in 2004, when the age of a juvenile under the law was enhanced from 16 to 18 years. The sixth accused would have been tried as an adult had this amendment not been enacted eight years ago.
But the fact that the boy – just a few months short of attaining legal adulthood – was involved in such a monstrous act but may get away under the pretext of it being ‘an act of innocence’ exposes a serious loophole in the law.