By Krati Gupta
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose
The December 2012 brutal gang rape of a 23 year old paramedical in New Delhi, involving a juvenile as one of the offenders in the heinous crime, escalated the demand for prosecuting the 16 to 18 year olds at par with the adult offenders and excluding them from the ambit of Juvenile Act. On July 14 2014, the Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi proposed an amendment in the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 regarding the same. She exclaimed,” juveniles who are old enough to commit monstrous sexual crimes, are also old enough to be treated at par with adults when it comes to trials. 50% of the crimes are committed by 16 year olds, who are well aware of the Juvenile Justice Act.” Various NGOs and the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights have come out strongly against the proposal and propounded it as ‘the violation of child rights’. They stated that the half of the figures given by Maneka Gandhi is bogus and that the statistics of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) show that out of nearly 1 lakh sex crimes ,2,838 of them were committed by juveniles in 2013.
Internationally, a ‘ juvenile’ or a ‘child’ is a person who has not completed 18 years of age. Under the Indian Law, the Juvenile Justice Act was passed on December 30, 2000 to amend the law relating to juveniles in conflict with law and children in need of protection and care, by applying a child friendly approach catering to their developmental needs. The crux of the amendment was to make the child more important than the crime he/she has committed and ensure that the further progress is on a reformative path rather than a backward spiral engulfing him/her again into the world of crime.
In most of the cases, three years of service in reformative special homes was found to be sufficient. But the increase in numbers as well as grimness of crimes committed by juveniles in the recent years has put a big question mark on the rectitude of this Act.
People believe that children are coming of age much faster now and are getting inclined towards hideous crimes because of their increased access to internet, television and other social media platforms. When we dig a bit deeper, it can be perceived that a major chunk of these offenders are the street children- poor and emaciated-forced into crime, either because of their monetarily deficient families or because of some social, mental or physical abuse they suffer in their respective homes.
Changing the age from 18 to 16 or anything else is a mere fiddling with numbers, the real bug lies in the Juvenile Justice system itself. As a matter of fact, most of the rehabilitative homes where these children are kept, serve as crime hubs. The children are treated with apathy, meted to abuse and bullied by the older ones. The deplorable conditions of these places are sucking the ‘reformative’ clause out of the Act. Also saying that access to technology, internet and TV makes a 16 year old as mature as 20 years old has a fault in itself. If this were assumed to be true, then by the same logic children should be allowed to vote for the government formation or allowed to hold positions of importance in government offices and should be entrusted with secret information of national importance. While any of the above isn’t obviously practical, hence clearly, access to technology doesn’t necessarily equal wisdom or maturity.
So, it’s time that our WCD minister researches the facts and figures well and takes time to ponder and work upon improving the existing conditions rather than lowering the age and creating further chaos. She must ensure that the convicted children in the juvenile homes waddle their way back to normalcy rather than turning into hardcore criminals.
Krati is currently a Pre final year student pursuing chemical engineering from Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad. She loves watching movies and posing for pictures. Apart from juggling between the concepts of thermodynamics and heat transfer during college hours, she is a greenhorn at writing and is highly optimistic about exploring the vast horizon in this field . She believes penning down her thoughts will make at least a small difference to the world.