Law · Public Policy · Society

Juvenile Mythbusters

There is a persistent spiral of sadistic juvenile criminality evidenced in several heinous cases involving juveniles less than 18 years. The ongoing debate on reducing juvenile age from 18 to 16 years has grown after the recent atrocious `nirbhaya’ case as there is a steep rise in serious crimes involving youth of 16 – 18 years of age and they very well know that below 18 years is the ‘getaway pass’ for them from the criminal prosecution. India is a signatory to the UNCRC which mandates the age of a child to be below 18 years. Countries all over the world use this definition. India too, defines a child between the ages of 0-18 years. By law, he/she is not allowed to vote, sign a contract because he /she is not considered mature enough to make such choices. We follow the rehabilitation method for the juveniles against the law. While rehabilitation is certainly an important legal and societal objective, this interest surely has to be balanced with creating a legal deterrent to protect women and girls from the increasing incidence of rapes by juveniles. Particularly in view of the significant increase in rapes committed by juveniles since the JJ Act was passed, India should consider amendment of the Act to transfer certain violent crimes such as murder and rape committed by juveniles above a particular age to the adult criminal system. Although, comparing juveniles with adult criminals is neither scientifically correct nor normatively defensible. As per the debate, the principal that ought to have been followed for trying juvenile offenders is that Juvenility should be decided as per the state of mind and not just the state of body but it is scientifically proven by neuroscience that, an adolescent is at an age where he/she is not mature enough to identify with the consequences of his/her actions. This is merely a myth that by following the strategy of lowering the age of majority and transferring juvenile offenders to adult court ensures that they receive harsher punishments, which in turn reduces crime and ensures the safety for public. Lowering of crime cannot be made possible just by lowering the age of ‘juveniles’. The crime rate may be lessened by educating them and giving them a proper ambience and atmosphere to rehabilitate and reform.

It is again a myth that the adolescent offenders, particularly older ones, are able to think like adults and therefore should be treated like adult offenders, because research has shown that adolescents are generally less capable decision makers than adults. Even  in Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988), the Court recognized that the age of the offender was an important consideration when trying to determine how the individual should be punished. The Court endorsed the proposition that less culpability should attach to a crime committed by a juvenile than to a comparable crime committed by an adult: “Their inexperience, less education, and less intelligence make the teenager less able to evaluate the consequences of his or her conduct while at the same time he or she is much more apt to be motivated by mere emotion or peer pressure than is an adult.”

The most pressing reform, which people are demanding in the juvenile justice law is to augment the ranking of custodial sentence and increase its maximum limit, during which a meaningful reform programme can be implemented to ensure that the juveniles in conflict with law are really redeemed and the society feels that it is adequately protected. Lowering the age of a juvenile is far more complex than we foresee. He/she is still vulnerable and can live a normal healthy adult life if allowed to undergo reformation through corrective measures. Our reluctance to acknowledge and prevent issues that cause children to turn to crime is a detriment to society. Why not have the State take responsibilities for their duty as care takers to our children as there is a wider possibility to reform them.

About the Author
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Sonal Gupta is pursuing her B.A. LLB from HariSingh Gour University. She is fond of reading and loves to write on various legal topics. She plans to serve her country through the eminent pillar of judiciary. She is currently pursuing her internship with Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.


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