The Indian parliament has passed a bill which allows juveniles between 16 and 18 years of age to be tried as adults for serious crimes like rape or murder, reported BBC.

At present, those under 18 can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in a reform facility.

The move to change the law gathered momentum after the youngest convict in the notorious 2012 Delhi gang rape was recently released from detention.

The parents of the victim were among those campaigning to change the law.

The Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha by a voice vote with Congress support after a walkout by Left. The Left parties as well some others including NCP and the DMK voiced caution over the measure, which had already been passed by Lok Sabha.  The Left parties wanted it to be sent to a Select Committee so that there is no haste in amending the law under emotional pressure.

The lowering of the age means that those aged 16 and above will no longer enjoy the protection under the Juvenile Justice law, under which juveniles cannot be tried under normal laws of the land that provides up to death for rape and murder.

Under the juvenile law till now, even those accused of heinous offences like rape could be tried only by Juvenile Justice Boards and cannot be jailed for more than three years.

Replying to the debate on the bill, Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi said the legislation was a “nuanced” one and was much needed to act as a “deterrent”.She said the incidents of heinous crimes by juveniles of the age of 16 years and above were on the rise and cited statistics to support her contention.

She said the incidents of heinous crimes by juveniles of the age of 16 years and above were on the rise and cited statistics to support her contention.

Allaying members’ concerns over implications of the bill, Gandhi said it was “not against children but rather provides for, protects, nurtures and keeps them safe.” The consideration of the bill was taken up under mounting pressure for toughening the law against the backdrop of the uproar over the release of the juvenile convict in the Delhi gangrape case.

The parents of Nirbhaya, who became the face of the campaign for changing the law, welcomed the passage of the bill saying it would deter juveniles from committing such ghastly crimes. However, the victim’s mother, Asha Devi, said she was “satisfied” at the bill’s passing. “But I am sad that my daughter did not get justice,” she added. 

A number of civil rights activists and NGOs felt that the law was being amended under emotional pressure over the release of the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case.

Critics say that India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which mandates that all children under the age of 18 be treated equally, and say the new law will violate the convention.