Reducing age of Juvenile criminality

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It is a matter of grave concern that reducing the age of Juvenile criminality is a rule of democracy or mobocracy. Age of juvenile criminality has been decreased by replacing the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Basically, it addresses children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. The Juvenile Justice (care and protection) bill 2015 passed by the Lok Sabha allows Juveniles between the age of 16 to 18 years to be treated as an adult if they are found to commit any kind of heinous crimes. Juvenile offenders aged 16 to 18 years can now be tried as adults in cases of heinous crimes like rape and murder with a new law in this regard coming into force.

The revised law includes several new definitions such as orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children, and petty, serious and heinous offences committed by children. But this amendment seems like that, it has been affected by the public crowd and pressure of media. Under the juvenile justice system till now, even those accused of heinous offences like rape could be tried only by JJB(Juvenile Justice Boards) and, if found guilty, sent to correctional homes for not more than three years. The JJB has been given the option to transfer cases of heinous offences by such children to a children’s court after conducting the preliminary assessment.

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In this provisions of the law, one more thing has been changed in word from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with law’ to remove the negative connotation associated with the word ‘juvenile’. But the main question is still remaining that is this solution to solve this kind of challenges? After the Delhi Gang rape incident, it was found that one of the accused was a few months away from being the age of 18 years. So he was tried in Juvenile court. Many people including BJP leader Subramanian Swami filed PIL (Public Interest Litigations) in the Supreme Court of India seeking that boy should be tried as an adult in the court.

After permitted by the Supreme Court to Juvenile Court to give its verdict over that issue, the boy was sentenced to 3 years in reform home. Some people including victim’s mother criticized the verdicts by saying that by not punishing Juvenile court is encouraging other teenagers to commit similar heinous crimes. After that Maneka Gandhi said that they were preparing a new law which will allow 16-year-olds to be tried as adult. She said that 50% of juvenile crimes were committed by teens who know that they get away with it. She added that changing the law, which will allow them to be tried for murder and rape as adults, will scare them. And then the journey of amendment of Juvenile’s law begins.

Public pressure forces into the sudden debate

Any legislation should not be affected by the external pressure. We should go through the very fine assessment and try to find the root cause of these kinds of problem then look for the solutions instead of making it political agenda and passing the bill in a hurry process. It needed to spend some more serious time on the debate otherwise on the grounds that it would create an adverse impact in rehabilitation of juveniles in conflict with law. Even the IPC (Indian Penal Code) absolves children below seven years of age from taking responsibility of any crime they commit.

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The Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) exists for a simple reason, to protect offenders between the ages of seven and eighteen. A juvenile under the law is a boy or a girl under 18 years old who have committed a criminal offence. But in the new law, whole concept has been changed. It will now determine the mindset and criminality of children between the age of 16 and 18 whether one should be tried as adult or juvenile instead of protecting that age. In the other words we can say that role of that law has been changed through the amendments.

The older law prohibits capital punishment from being imposed on the juveniles, irrespective of the seriousness of the crime. India has been also a signatory in the UN convention on the rights of child which mandates that lower than 18, a person cannot be tried as an adult. But after implementation of the new Juvenile Justice Law 2015 the child between the age of 16 and 18 can be tried as an adult and on the basis of assessment of the Juvenile Justice board (JJB) the accused child might be sentenced life imprisonment to the child in future cases instead of reformation.

In short, I can say that now-Justice will be done emotionally because on every issue, public would like to try the case as an adult. Media would help them to make each and every case emotional so that they could polarize the TRP as much as possible. If legislation could be affected by the pressure of public & Media, then why JJB won’t? Secondly, Jyoti Singh’s parents Asha Devi and Badri Singh have been seated in the visitor’s gallery to watch the proceedings.

Rajya Sabha finally took up the matter for discussion and passed it suddenly. Now one more question can be raised here suppose one more boy of 15 years and 11 months commits such a heinous crime then what will be our responses that day? Will we again amend this law and change the age band of Juvenile by putting the victim’s parents in the same visitor’s gallery?

Most of the studies show that often juveniles are victims of abuse, neglect and get into crimes due to peer pressure. I am giving an example to understand it better. According to the ‘Open Magazine’ Delhi rape juvenile convict dropped out of school in class three after his father, a daily wage laborer, was left mentally challenged in an accident at a construction site near his village. His mother barely made Rs 1,000 a month as a farm laborer. He escaped the poverty to find a better life in Delhi at the age of 11 and did odd jobs.

The juvenile convict’s developing years were spent on the streets. So before judging any alleged person it is the duty of Judge to hear every circumstance and give the verdict accordingly. It is sure that any convicted person must be punished but what should be the amount that depends on all the circumstances which has been looked up by the Judges. I am saying so, because any verdict should not be announced on the sense of revenge. Our judiciary system has been set up for the justice not for any kind of revenge. Even Justice Verma Committee rejected the idea of new amendments of Juvenile Justice Bill.

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Needs of re-evaluation

There is need to be re-evaluated this Juvenile Justice Law. One of the most criticized steps in the new Juvenile Justice Bill 2015 is introduction of “Judicial Waiver System” which allows treatment of juveniles, in certain conditions as the adult criminal justice system and to punish them as adults. This is for the first time in India’s history that such a provision has been prescribed. Given to the severe criticism, Bill was referred to a Standing Committee of the Parliament which also rejected such provisions. The Standing Committee, while examining the Bill observed that the Bill was based on misleading data regarding juvenile crimes and violated certain provisions of the Constitution.

Since recommendations of Parliament’s Standing Committee are not binding, Government has moved ahead and introduced the Bill in Lok Sabha, where it stands passed. These step shows that how hurry our politicians are, to introduce this law. Any amendments or new laws should not be taken into account very hasten otherwise its impact would be very adverse in nature. It was very regressive move to disturb the momentum of Juvenile Justice Legislation in the Country. I am giving some solid reasons to support my point.

Many people are giving the example of USA where the age band of Juvenile at which Juvenile can be treated as an adult is only 13 years old. Many other countries like U.K. South Africa, Canada, Germany who have fixed age band lesser than 16 years to be tried Juvenile as an adult. But one more thing we have notice that in spite of reducing the age of Juvenile in those countries the crimes committed by Juveniles are much higher in those countries than India.

So we can’t say that by applying this formula of Juvenile Justice Bill after the amendments, we would be able to short out this issue. One of the very adverse impacts of such amendments is that when we will try to impose stringent laws over the juveniles then the alleged juveniles try to destroy the evidences. One of the infamous ideas to destroy the evidence is to kill the victims. Then one more charge will be imposed on that juvenile.

In this way we are encouraging the juvenile to commit more and more crimes. Now who will the responsible for this bigger crime of pushing Juvenile into criminality instead of reforming them? It would be not the way to eradicate the crime, but to eradicate the Juvenile. We have to understand the social impact and then go for discussion and implementation.

Before implementing this law we would have gone through the socio-economic assessment and effect of introducing Juvenile into adult court. Proper management would have done for juvenile regarding the re-habitation. Nothing has been said in the law that how they are going to reform the Juvenile. In a very simplified manner, it has been said that heinous crimes will be tried as an adult by JJB. I don’t how JJB (Juvenile Justice Board) will distinguish the difference between good rape and bad rape. The definition of heinous is also very opaque in this regard because robbery is also included in the heinous crime. So is it justice to push the juvenile into adult court because of robbery?

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Many experts have argued that a criminal justice system that has a reformative and rehabilitative approach towards juvenile offenders may reduce cases of repeat offences. They say that under the current law, juvenile crime has only shown a marginal increase over the past few years. How can one justify that marginal increasing of juvenile crimes is just because of absence of this kind of law? Their root causes are lying somewhere else like lack of proper education, poverty etc. we are trying to hide our failure by imposing stringent laws over juveniles.

Our constitution also doesn’t allow such kind of amendment which violates other articles. First, Clause 7 of the Juvenile Justice Bill states that any person who is between the ages of 16-18 years and has committed a serious (between three to seven years imprisonment) or heinous offence (minimum seven years imprisonment), will be tried as an adult if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years. This provision is also violating Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The provision of trying a juvenile committing a serious or heinous offence as an adult based on date of apprehension could violate the Article 14 (right to equality) because the Bill creates a distinction between two juvenile offenders committing the same offence on the basis of the date of apprehension and Article 21 (requiring that laws and procedures are fair and reasonable) because The differentiation based on the date of apprehension may fail this standard.

The provision also counters the spirit of Article 20(1) because Article 20(1) of the Constitution states that a person cannot be subjected to a penalty greater than what would have been applicable to him, under a law in force at the time of commission of the offence. Under the Bill, if a juvenile between the ages of 16-18 years commits an offence and is apprehended at a later date, he may face a higher penalty than what would be applicable to him if he had been apprehended at the time of the commission of the offence. 

After looking at the whole matter I am able to reach a conclusion that we should re-think this issue because its impact would be very adverse if we did not legislate and implement it properly. Secondly, we should emphasis more on reformative and rehabilitative approach towards juvenile instead of spending the whole energy toward punishing them. Punishment would eradicate only juveniles, not crimes. We should look for justice, not for revenge.

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