This article is written by Mayank Labh, a student of NALSAR Hyderabad.
The Juvenile Justice Bill, 2015 was recently passed by Lok Sabha in India. One of the most controversial changes is the change which will allow the juveniles of age 16-18 to be treated as adult if they commit certain types of crime. Other major changes are the following:
- i) No death-sentence or life imprisonment to juveniles.
- ii) Corporal punishment and ragging committed on persons below 18 years is a criminal offence under this act.
iii) It also gives measures for facilitating faster adoption of children and setting up foster care homes.
The changes in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2014 was criticized from across the parties, child activists particularly for the treatment of juveniles of 16-18 years as adult. The bill was welcomed by one of the members of opposition party Shashi Tharoor as “Attempts2inject humanity into JuvenileJusticeBill crushed by Govt’s brute majority in LokSabha. To kids, suit-boot sarkar=brute-jhoot sarkar.”
What exactly is the change? Why is there so much brouhaha over the said change? Does it have any merit or is it just a vain attempt made by “Sickular” parties and leftist “intellectual terrorists” to prevent the government from doing its exercise in pursuit of justice”. This article seeks to understand and analyze this.
It is a system in which juveniles of 16-18 years who commit heinous crimes like rape are “transferred” as to be treated as an adult. It is based on an assessment whether the crime was committed as a “child” or as an “adult”. The assessment would be done by psychologists and social experts of Juvenile Justice Board.
Secondly, any 16-18 year old, who commits a lesser, i.e., serious offence, may be tried as an adult only if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years.
Problems advocated by Experts
One of the problems which were raised by ministers was that this approach is based on retribution rather than on reformation and rehabilitation. It is argued that this amendment is introduced particularly to adhere to illiberal voices of the mob after the 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape.
One of the major motives to pass this amendment was that there is a perception that many of the crimes, particularly rapes, are committed by juveniles of 16 to 18 age groups. However, according to NCRB, only 3.4 percent of the rapes were registered against the juveniles of 16-18 age group. Moreover, this statistics is based on the FIR filed against such juveniles. It must be noted that many a times FIR of rape, kidnapping are also filed against teenagers in elopement cases as well. So, the perception that juveniles commit most of the heinous crime is not really well-founded.
Secondly it was thought that children are as blameworthy in a similar manner as the adults for the conducts done by them. It is argued by the supporters that such crimes reflect the mental culpability of offenders and such commission of heinous crimes is a mature act in itself. However, according to a recent brain studies conducted by TISS, according to which risk-taking tendency is really high during adolescence. It is discovered by neuroscientists that prefrontal lobe which is responsible for functions such as planning, reasoning, controlling the impulse, etc. develop only after 25 years.
It is pointed out by experts that this bill is in violation of the norms of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child since it requires every child under 18 to be treated as equal. Article 14 Right to equality can also be violated in that sense.
Moreover, it seems to also violate the article 20(1) of Indian Constitution for it is according higher penalty to the same offence if the adult is apprehended after 21 years of age.
Even though if we assume that there are some juveniles who have enough mental maturity to commit such crimes still it is very difficult to determine the maturity of the juveniles. Such psychological tests are highly subjective and arbitrary. It is also argued by experts that some mature master-mind juveniles can crack the test and pass-off as immature while some susceptible immature juvenile minds can still be considered as mature.
This system is imported from U.S. where it is shown in many states that it does not serve as an effective deterrence. In fact, U.S. is closing down prisons and is looking for some other ways like community-based treatment programmes for prisoners.
If we look at the background of the juveniles against whom the complaints are filed then we find that more than 80 percent of the juveniles family income is less than 50,000 or so per year. They do not even have primary education. The need of the hour is to focus on such issues that provoke them to commit crimes instead of targeting these juveniles with stringent punishment without any logical base. But, the today’s government has only provided 633 crore i.e. (0.8 percent of the total allocation) for the welfare of children.