Law

The Massacre of Innocence

The December 16 gang rape has undoubtedly been an eye-opener for the Indian lawmaker. The tragic occurrence led to a score of much needed amendments in the rape law of our country and the legislators have now introduced an amendment in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. The amendment that was introduced by the new Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi proposes to empower the Juvenile Justice Boards to decide if they want to deal with juvenile offenders between the ages of 16-18 years, alleged to have committed heinous crimes, as if they were adults.[1]

Even though this amendment has found a place in the hearts of millions of empathizing Indians, experts all over the country say that the provision violates child rights and are raising their voices against the move.

One of the core principles of juvenile justice says that the curbing of a child’s liberty should be a measure of last resort, and the method of dealing with juvenile delinquents should be restorative rather than retributive.[2] The current punishment for a juvenile can be extended to a maximum of three years in a correctional home but under the new amendment, the juvenile if convicted may face a jail term but not life imprisonment or death penalty.[3]

So, not only does this provision go against one of the fundamentals of juvenile justice, it also makes way for years of criminal influence on impressionable minds, unleashing them back on the society after the sentence is over. It is basically a recipe for manufacturing career criminals!

The new amendment thus, contributes more to the making of hardened criminals who are more likely to come out of jail and commit a repeat offence rather than a one time offender who can be, with adequate care, reformed.

This general view has been backed by many experts in the field of juvenile justice. Research has shown that 64 percent of juvenile cases are committed by children between 16 and 18 and 92 percent of these juvenile delinquents are from poor socio-economic backgrounds.[4] But there seems to be no reference to individual backgrounds in the law and if it is implemented, any leniency will depend upon its judicial interpretation. Thus, there is always the chance that the judges will stick to a strict interpretation of the law in order to oblige the majority of the masses and thus give away other mitigating factors also.

Echo (Empowerment of Children and Human Rights Organisation) is the only NGO in India that independently runs a juvenile home in India on behalf of the Karnataka government. According to its statistics, the 1000 or so juveniles that were admitted to the home for heinous crimes have all been reformed after their stay there. None of them has gone back to crime and some of them are now employed and contributing to the betterment of society.  He says that there are only a few of them who do not respond to correctional facilities and more often than not they suffer from some kind of psychological disorder that can be helped by counseling.[5] So there is enough evidence to show that juvenile delinquents are most probably in need not of punishment but of help.

It is also seen that most juvenile delinquents come from socially backward areas. These are usually children who have run away from home and live on the streets in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and have to resort to crime to fulfill their daily needs. Established criminals usually prey on such targets and that it what leads to the evolution of a deviant mind. It becomes the duty of the government to protect these children rather than establishing a legal system which also works against them.[6]

Mamta Sharma recently said that she was in support of the government’s move because according to her boys in the age group of 16-18 were the ones most “influenced by obscene content and videos”.[7] This kind of attitude on the part of government authorities can be described as outrageous at best.

Another major problem crops up when the heinous crime committed by the juvenile is rape. The parliament in 2013 has risen the age of consent from 16 to 18 for girls. With the juvenile justice amendment, it proposes to virtually decrease the age of delinquents committing rape from 18 to 16. This makes it extremely easy to morally police young couples.

40 percent rape cases in the Delhi district courts are allegedly filed by the parents of daughters who have had consensual sex with their partners, which is not approved of by their parents. If the partner is under 18 or just over 18 courts generally go easy with their verdicts. But this discretion given to the courts has also been taken away by the amendments in the rape laws.[8]

The proposed law has too many anomalies to ignore. The government will be taking a retrograde step and paving the way for young criminals if this law is implemented. Lawmakers should look into the sections of the amendment and sort out the errors before we regret taking the wrong decision in the light of public fury and at the cost of hundreds of underprivileged and immature children.

About the Author

DSC_0005Karishma Padia

Originally from Mumbai (or as she like to call it ‘Bombay’), Karishma is a second year student of National Law University, Delhi. She enjoys reading fiction, dancing and daydreaming. She hopes to travel the world someday, but for now she prides herself on surviving away from home. She has recently developed a fascination for Political Science and plans to explore the subject further.

Endnotes

[1] Bill to amend Juvenile Justice Act introduced in Lok Sabha, India Today, August 12, 2014 available at

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/juvenile-justice-act-lok-sabha-parliament-bill-amendment/1/376682.html

[2] Key Principles on Juvenile Justice, available at

http://www.unicef.org/bih/child_protection_15876.html

[3] FPJ Bureau, Bill to amend Juvenile Justice Act introduced in LS, August 1, 2014 available at

http://freepressjournal.in/bill-to-amend-juvenile-justice-act-introduced-in-ls/

[4] Bala Chauhan, Expert flays move to amend Juvenile Justice Act, August 9, 2014 available at

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/140809/nation-current-affairs/article/expert-flays-move-amend-juvenile-justice-act

[5] Ibid.

[6] Solitary voice for voiceless children, May 30 2014, available at

http://cityplus.jagran.com/city-news/solitary-voice-for-voiceless-children_1401435819.html

[7] Bill to amend Juvenile Justice Act introduced in Lok Sabha, The Peninsula, August 13, 2014 available at

http://thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/india/295486/bill-to-amend-juvenile-justice-act-introduced-in-lok-sabha

[8] Mrinal Satish and Rukmini S., Misunderstanding rape, condemning juveniles, The Hindu, August 14, 2014, available at

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/misunderstanding-rape-condemning-juveniles/article6309522.ece#comments.

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