There is a gray area in our legal system when it comes to delivering justice in cases of heinous crimes committed by juveniles. This issue has been brought into the lime light recently after one of the accused in the Delhi gang rape case who is 17 years old has been tried in Juvenile Court for raping and brutalizing a 23 year old girl aboard a moving bus and sentenced to 3 years in a correctional home. The other four accused are being tried in a criminal court. This has received a lot of criticism from the people wherein they demanded the 17 year old to be tried as an adult as well. The irony here is that the juvenile was the cruelest and most depraved among all the accused.
Separate legislation has existed in many countries around the world since the early 20th century for the care and protection of children, including child offenders. The present system in India was introduced by a 1986 Act and improved upon in 2000. The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, a progressive legislation, replaced the regular judicial process with a reformatory regime, favoring supervised probation or stay in an observation home over imprisonment. The law tries to reform a young offender’s conduct rather than confine him for decades in a prison with adult criminals, which only builds up criminal tendencies.
Imagine a victim’s family who has to watch the criminal walk away with a short sentence in a juvenile home since the maximum punishment for juveniles is 3 years. After an increase in juvenile offenders in sex crimes, it has become a popular opinion that juveniles who commit serious crimes such as rapes should be tried as adults and punished appropriately.
The NCRB statistics relating to violent crimes by juveniles against women are very troubling. “Crime in India 2011” suggests the number of rapes committed by juveniles has more than doubled over the past decade from 399 rapes in 2001 to 858 rapes in 2010. “Crime in India 2012” records that the total number of rapes committed by juveniles more than doubled from 485 in 2002 to 1149 in 2011.
As the data suggests, between 2011 and 2012 alone, there was a massive increase in instances of rape by juveniles by nearly 300, which is almost as much as the increase in such cases over the entire previous decade. This increase alone makes amendment of the JJA imperative.
The idea that a so called juvenile has no understanding or knowledge of his actions when he commits a crime as cruel as rape, torture or bodily harm amounting to murder is quite unacceptable to the common man who reads of such crimes and is enraged when the criminal goes scott free due to a certain age factor.
Even if the JJA is not amended per se, the Courts have the power to interpret the law liberally and can move extreme cases of juveniles to adult courts and try them as adults. The High Courts and the Supreme Court have in the past taken a stand and given wider interpretations of certain laws in exceptional cases. The same could be done in the cases of extreme violent acts by juveniles.
To some it may seem harsh that an underage person is being charged as an adult, but to the people who look closer, and try to comprehend the pros and cons of sending a juvenile murderer or rapist to a correctional facility, it will seem a futile exercise which is unjust. It is indeed an irony that we have been debating furiously on giving maximum punishment and even death penalty for certain cases for rapists, but we fail to give time and thought to those rapists who are walking away with barely a slap on the wrist simply because they aren’t 18 years old. This is something we must all give a serious thought to because the repercussions will have an effect on us all, whether we choose to accept it or not.
About the Author
A patriot and hopeful change maker, Riddhima is a believer in the power of women to change the world. She has studied Political Science with special reference to the feminist movement, feminist theory and the position of women in Indian politics. She is currently pursuing Law in the first year and hopes to specialize in women related laws and work with an organization in a related field. She enjoys public speaking and is not afraid to speak her mind. Sharma is a quick learner and is keen to gain new experiences especially in the areas of public policy, politics and strategy.