First Published On 19 January 2013
AMID THE public anger and calls for retribution triggered by the brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old paramedical student in New Delhi, there has also been a demand for changes in the Juvenile Justice Act. One of the accused is probably a juvenile and there is a fear that the Act might help him evade the full weight of the punishment for the heinous crime. Even Union Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath has reportedly asked for the Act to be amended so that juveniles involved with serious offences like the present one don‚Äôt get away with lenient treatment. Concerns have also been raised about increasing crime by juveniles and people are asking for a remedy.
One of the demands is to reduce the age of adulthood from 18 to 16 years. Another demand is to make an exception in the Juvenile Justice Act to allow a juvenile to be treated as an adult offender in cases of heinous offences. However, the existing Juvenile Justice Act too gives due consideration to the seriousness of offences and Section 16 of the Act deals with it.
The spirit of the Juvenile Justice Act is such that it makes the child more important than the offence he/she may have committed. The primary consideration is how to reform the child so that he/she does not grow up to become a criminal. There are cases where the offence may be trivial, and yet the child may need extremely intensive interventions to reform him/her. In the case of crimes by juveniles, it is more important to look for ways to reform the offender than to ensure that the punishment is commensurate with the crime. In many cases, a period of three years in a reformative special home has been found sufficient. Making an exception in the law itself may open a window for misuse.
As a general rule, laws err on the side of caution. Today, however, people are not ready to think about how the proposed change will impact the lives of juveniles in the age group of 16-18 years. Thousands of them will land up in jails instead of getting an opportunity to reform themselves. Many of them may end up becoming hardened criminals as our jails are not known for turning criminals into law-abiding citizens.
Crime prevention among juveniles depends on effective implementation of several laws, including the Juvenile Justice Act. A child does not turn into a monster in one day. Years of neglect, apathy and abuse go into turning an innocent child into a juvenile in conflict with law. Let our laws on children be implemented with honesty and sincerity. Snatching away the opportunity of reform from our children in not the answer.