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This article is written by Arush Mittal, a student currently pursuing B.A. LLB. (Hons) from Hidayatullah National Law University. This is an exhaustive article which talks about the issue of whether the Juvenile Justice System should be abolished.

Introduction

In 1986, the Juvenile Justice Act was passed to treat, develop, provide care and protection, rehabilitate delinquent or neglected children that also involved the adjudication of such matters relating to the disposition of the juveniles. Under this Act, a boy below the age of 16 years and a girl below the age of 18 years were treated as juvenile.

Later on, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 was passed that raised the age of a boy to 18 years. It also states that children who are in need of care and protection should be sent to a children home and a juvenile in any conflict of law be sent to an observation home. The maximum detention that can be given to a juvenile is just 3 years. Section 17 of this Act immunes a juvenile from any punishment under the criminal law. In 2015, an amendment was brought to this Act that tried the children of age 16-18 as adults if they had committed an offense that was heinous in nature.

This article puts forward multiple reasons in support of and against the argument whether the Juvenile Justice System should be abolished or kept in place. The article also puts forward some suggestions in the same regard. 

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Should the Juvenile Justice System be abolished

Generally, there are two types of systems that run parallel:

  • The Criminal Justice System that deals with the crimes and offenses that are committed by the adults.
  • The Juvenile Justice System that is particularly made for the children with the view to rehabilitate the child that has committed the offense.

The purpose of having a juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate the delinquents instead of punishing them for the criminal behavior they exhibit. A lot of critics of the juvenile justice courts have said that this system should be abolished as it fails to rehabilitate the children and does not punish the children that commit serious criminal offenses. The people who defend the juvenile justice system say that this system should not be abolished as it addresses the problems that occur among children. This system makes sure that there is a positive change in the behavior of the children who had committed a crime.

The basic underlying assumption behind the juvenile justice system is that the children who commit offenses should not go through what the adult offenders go through. The juvenile system was created for handling the offenders on the basis of their age and not crimes. The juvenile justice system is of the view to provide guidance and treatment instead of a punishment. Some states have considered treating children as adults in cases of serious offenses whereas some states have totally abolished the juvenile justice system.

I personally believe that the juvenile justice system should not be abolished as the children have a much higher chance of rehabilitation than adults. Instead of abolishing the whole system, a few reforms should be made to the juvenile system. It can be proved by the arguments that I have stated against the abolition.

Arguments for abolition

The purpose for which the juvenile justice system was put in place is not served in majority cases. Its aim of establishing effective rehab programs for children has not been achieved, instead, it has turned itself into a mere youth jail. Youths are treated as adults in the court proceedings but not given the same rights as the adults. This is not a good practice as when a minor is denied an attorney, he should not be sentenced as an adult. There is inconsistency in the proceedings and sentencing in the juvenile system.

Due to a variety of reasons such as drugs, availability of weapons, gangs, bad intentions, etc, the juveniles have crossed the line of committing a crime and have gone as far as committing heinous crimes such as rape, murder, etc. Since the youth have gone so far in committing such offenses, the juvenile justice system is no longer the best portal to address the issue of juvenile violence.

The juvenile justice courts are very lenient while giving out their decisions that lead to the failure of rehabilitation of the younger population. Due to this leniency, harsh punishments and serious consequences are avoided by the juveniles who commit offenses that are grave in nature. 

The juvenile justice system sends a message to the juvenile population that the offense committed by a juvenile offender would not make him repent for such an action since the punishments are not harsh. These juvenile offenders face the real punishment only after they are tried in criminal courts after attaining the age of majority. Hence, it would be much better to punish the juvenile in the same way as an adult when he commits an offense which is of a serious nature, this would prevent a future criminal activity by that youth.

The juvenile offenders who have committed violent and serious crimes are not held for more than 3 years at the juvenile home i.e. till they reach the age of 18 years. This means that even if the minor has committed an offense that would sentence an adult for ten years or more, the minor gets free just after serving a few years at the juvenile jail. There should be some sense of equality in the punishment since a minor cannot just commit the offense of, for example, rape and have no intent involved. 

Due to the reasons stated above, the system of juvenile justice should be completely abolished. Juvenile offenders should be tried as adults if they commit such serious offenses. They should get all the rights during a trial and should be completely made accountable for their actions. Only the criminal court can determine the conviction of such juvenile offenders when they are treated as an adult. 

Arguments against abolition

There has been a misperception that the juvenile justice system is a failure because of the small population of the minors that have committed some violent offenses. Even though all the children cannot be rehabilitated, the whole juvenile system should not be abolished for that reason. The few juveniles who commit violent crimes and are not likely to rehabilitate, only those minors should be tried in the criminal courts. Abolishing the whole juvenile system would be a vague move.

There are various defects in juvenile justice courts due to the lack of funding. Adequate funding would lead to better supervision over the children and hence enhanced rehabilitation. The way a juvenile behaves highly depends on the environment in which he lives. A minor might suffer from childhood traumas, neglect, abuse and also be exposed to violence that may change his perception towards the world. Instead of abolishing the juvenile justice system, efforts should be made to change the situation in the community and also improve the method of rehabilitation that would result in decreasing the crimes.

Placing juveniles in prison for a crime does not end their criminal behavior; this could backfire and the juvenile who gets imprisoned might think that he is a lost cause and get so stigmatized by this conviction that he would return back to such activities. This offender might think that he is not good for anything but doing such crimes.

If the juvenile justice system is not abolished and the offenders are tried in criminal courts, a lot of money is spent on the whole process of incarceration and the court proceedings. Instead of spending the money on this, it could be used for better education, job training and counseling of these children to build a better tomorrow for them as well as the people in the community. 

A lot of times, the action of the juvenile offender could be because of peer-pressure or someone might have forced him to do such an act. A conviction of such an individual could destroy his whole life and there would be difficulty in obtaining employment and various other things in life. If the juvenile justice system is not abolished, it would help the juvenile offender to learn from his mistakes without endangering his adulthood and lead a better life.

Many countries have adopted laws that would deal severely with only those juveniles who commit a serious or violent offense. These kinds of measures should be adopted instead of abolishing the entire juvenile justice system. 

Reforms and suggestions

According to me, the juvenile justice system should not be abolished, instead, new reforms should be brought in which would enhance the effectiveness of this system. Some of the suggestions and reforms to be made are listed below:

Advisory Board

A lot of problems exist in the juvenile justice system due to the lack of coordination among various organs of the system. The Central and State Governments should make an effort to establish advisory boards at various levels such as city, district, state and central. This would bring a sense of coordination among various organs of the juvenile justice system that are under the control of law and justice, education and health ministries. 

Integration with Human Resource Development

Emphasis should also be given to integrating the juvenile justice system and human resource development with each other. This system does not let the juvenile offenders go to prison, therefore, more emphasis should be laid upon the planning development of such individuals as this would develop their behavior without alienating them from the community. Instead of serving the time in prison, they would spend it to develop themselves into better individuals.

Community Participation

The community needs to be more involved in the procedure related to the juvenile justice system to avoid it from working in isolation. Priority should be given to the organizations, institutions, juvenile homes and those fit persons who are willing to take care of the neglected juveniles to shape a better future from them and avoid them from committing any crime. It would be better if social workers are appointed to the advisory board of the juvenile justice system as that would increase the involvement of the community.

Age of a Juvenile

The age of juveniles has been kept as below 18 years. After the Nirbhaya Case, those juveniles who commit heinous offenses in the age group of 16-18 years would be treated as adults. The age of a juvenile in the Act should be kept below 16 years as it clearly visible from the Nirbhaya Case that a minor in that age group develops the thinking of an adult and therefore commits serious offenses. A lot of offenses have been reported that are committed by the juveniles of the age group of 16-18 years. Keeping this in mind, there should be an amendment in the Act that keeps the age of a juvenile below 16 years.

Penal Provision

The juvenile justice system is totally reformative and aims to rehabilitate the offender instead of punishing him. Some kind of penal provision should be added to it that would add a sense of deterrence and not just reformation. Crimes cannot be prevented if the offenders know that they would not be punished. Therefore, penal provision should be added to the juvenile justice system to build a sense of fear in the minds of the offenders while they commit such offense. 

Conclusion

The best way for the efficient application of the juvenile justice system is not abolishment, but a reformation. I believe that abolishment is not the answer to improve the legislation, it is reformation. Instead of eliminating the juvenile system completely or making a totally new legislation, reformations should be brought to the existing juvenile justice system. If all the juveniles are tried as adults, more damage would be done to a juvenile as he would have to go through the adult system. In this article, I have provided arguments from both the sides i.e. whether the Juvenile Justice System should be abolished or should new reforms be introduced for its better implementation. I have also suggested certain reforms that should be brought into the current juvenile system for better implementation of the laws already in place.


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