The decision was taken at a meeting of the cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, informed sources said.
The amended bill will now be sent to parliament for approval.
The amendment will empower Juvenile Justice (JJ) Boards to take a call on whether to treat 16/18-year-olds as adults in cases of heinous crimes.
Such convicted juveniles may face a jail term but will not be awarded life sentence or death penalty.
Currently, if an accused person is found to be a juvenile (under 18 years), he is tried by the JJ Board and, if convicted, is sent to a juvenile home for a period of three years.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said in the Lok Sabha last week that the move to amend the act was aimed to act as a deterrent for child offenders committing such crimes and will also protect the rights of the victim.
The sources said the other amendments in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, include bringing in more clarity in the role and procedures of statutory structures such as Child Welfare Committees and Juvenile Justice Boards, and strengthening punitive measures for offences committed against children.
New offences such as corporal punishment, ragging and using a child for vending, peddling, carrying, supplying or smuggling any intoxicating liquor, narcotic drug or psychotropic substance and streamlining and strengthening measures for adoption,
including providing statutory status to the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) have also been added, they said.
The amended law makes it mandatory for all child care institutions to register or pay a stringent penalty in case of non-compliance.
The government has fast-tracked clearance of the bill – which was sent for inter-ministerial consultations only last week – in the backdrop of perceived lack of business in the ongoing parliament session.
The ministry is keen to introduce the juvenile justice bill in the ongoing parliament session, which ends Aug 14.
Child rights activists have, however, opposed the decision to amend the act.
Child rights body Save the Children said Wednesday it would have liked to see more debate and discussion before the government cleared the amendment to the JJ Act.
“We should not have knee-jerk reaction to one or two incidents involving children and retraction from this well-defined philosophy is not called for. We believe all children under 18 years of age should be dealt with in the JJ system, irrespective of crime and the same is reflected in the current law,” it said in a statement.
Sanjay Gupta of NGO Chetna, working in the field of child rights, said: “Before introspecting the failure of recommendations of the JJ Act and reasons of children being pushed into crime, lowering age will not serve purpose. It is a complete eye-wash.”