WHETHER MINORS COMMITTING HEINOUS CRIMES SHOULD BE TREATED AS JUVENILE?

Juvenile means children who have not yet reached the age and maturity of adults. As per the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000, a juvenile shall not be treated as an adult even if he/she is involved in any criminal acts for the purpose of trial and punishment in the court of law. This article discusses whether juveniles must be treated as adults for certain heinous crimes.

Mon Aug 08 2022 | Employment, Criminal and Labour | Comments (0)

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According to our present Juvenile Justice System, when a minor commits a crime that is not naturally borne by them rather, it is believed that it is because of the spirit of adventure that is in every minor or either due to his own stupidity, or to his lack of discipline and maturity. But they fail to understand that humanity has its stars in the future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.

Discussions of the juvenile justice system cannot proceed without a clear understanding of the behaviour that it is tasked to address. The juvenile court and the juvenile justice system are relatively recent inventions, tracing their history back to the late 1800s. Prior to that time, youths who broke the law were handled in the same system and in the same way as adults. The term ‘Juvenile’ was born in the late 1800s when the crime and misbehaviour by youths were redefined as separate and distinct from adult offences, and new mechanisms of social control were developed to address problem children. Youthful offenders, who used to be seen as simply young ‘criminals’, have been transformed into ‘juveniles’. The label ‘juvenile’, however, represents a variety of different behaviours and means different things at different places and points in time.

WHO IS A JUVENILE?

Juvenile means a person who is very young, teenager, adolescent or underage. In other words, juvenile means children who have not yet reached the age and maturity of adults, in the sense that they are still childish or immature. Sometimes the term “child” is also interchangeably used for the term “juvenile”.

Legally speaking, a juvenile can be defined as a child who has not attained a certain age at which he can be held liable for his criminal acts, unlike  an adult person under the laws of the country. Juvenile is a child who is alleged to have committed certain acts or omissions, which are in violation of any law and are declared to be an offence. In terms of law, a juvenile is a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years. It has a legal significance. As per the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000, a juvenile shall not be treated as an adult even if he/she is involved in any criminal acts for the purpose of trial and punishment in the court of law.

REASON FOR JUVENILE CRIMES IN INDIA

There are many factors contributing towards the criminal nature of the youth. Most of these youths come from families of discord or abuse. Peer pressure and neighborhoods also influence the development of a child. Poverty is also one of the main causes for a delinquent youth. Although education plays an important role in moulding the future citizens, the system somewhere lacks in the ability of holding the attention of non-bookish and non-academic individuals and thus, contributes towards many cases of juvenile delinquency. Delinquents are typically those who take studies like a burden and upon  being rebuked, turn towards crime. Crime committed by children under statutory age is known as juvenile delinquency. As per the statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), juvenile criminals between 16 and 18 years accounted for more than 60% of the crimes registered against minors in India in 2013. In fact, the number of juveniles in conflict with law has increased by a significant number in recent times. This also included the modesty of women being outraged.

MEASURES

There are some measures which may help in reforming these children:

  1. Instill in them a sense of security and give them the love and affection that they may have been deprived of.
  2. Parents should be counselled to detect early signs of maladjustments, so that any tendency towards delinquency may be destroyed at the roots.
  3. A sense of moral and social values should be instilled in them at the very beginning.
  4. Bring about a change in the community that encourages such behavior.
  5. Schools should adopt the option of skill management and vocational training, so that children who are not academic by nature have the option of developing a skill which will give them the opportunity to earn a livelihood even without formal education.
  6. Once a delinquent behavior has been detected, one must remember to reject the behavior and not the individual.

PRESENT LEGISLATION

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 lays down that juvenile in conflict with law or juvenile offenders may be kept in an ‘Observation Home’ while children in need of care and protection need to be kept in a ‘Children Home’ during the pendency of proceedings before the competent authority.

A juvenile can be detained only for a maximum period of 3 years, irrespective of the gravity of offence committed by him and he will be remanded to ‘Special Home’. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 provides immunity to the child who is less than 18 Years of age at the time of the commission of the alleged offence from trial through Criminal Courts or any punishment under Criminal Law in view of Section 17 of the Act.

The purpose of this new Act was to rehabilitate the child and assimilate him/her in mainstream society. The rationale is that a child still has the possibility of reformation due to his/her tender age and lack of maturity and it is the responsibility of the State to protect and reform the child.

Keeping in mind the increase in crimes committed by juveniles, the Union Cabinet has approved an amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, to treat persons  older than 16 years as adults, if charged with serious crimes such as rape. However, these delinquent youths shall not be given death or life sentence.

PROPOSED AMENDMENT IN JUVENILE JUSTICE ACT 2000

Recently,due to major hue and cry in public against the increasing number of crimes being committed by  juveniles, the Government has decided to present the proposed amendment in law in  Parliament . This amendment would have far reaching effects on our criminal justice system.

In brief, major changes are as follows:

  • The proposed legislation would be replacing the existing Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000.
  • It has clearly defined and classified offences as petty, serious and heinous.
  •  The increasing number of serious offences being committed by juveniles in the age group of 16-18 years has been noticed. Thus, in recognition of the rights of the victims alongside the rights of juveniles, it is proposed that such heinous offences should be dealt with in a special manner.
  • Therefore, it has been proposed that if a heinous crime is committed by a person in the age group of 16to18 years, the Juvenile Justice Board will first assess if the said crime was committed by that person as a ‘child’ or as an ‘adult’.
  • The Juvenile Justice Board will have psychologists and social experts who  would make sure that the rights of the juvenile are duly protected if the crime was committed as a child.
  • The trial of the case shall proceed on the basis of a Board’s assessment report regarding  whether the concerned juvenile has committed the crime as a child or as an adult.

ARE THE AMENDMENTS GOING TO STOP THE MENACE- A Critical Analysis

The issue of how juveniles should be punished has come to the fore, especially because of two cases that came to the limelight; the 2012 rape case in Delhi and the Shakti Mills rape case. Shockingly, in both the cases, one of the main accused was a juvenile. While the accused adult offenders were given the death sentence, these juveniles got away with just three years in a remand home. The  question to consider is if  this punishment is enough to rectify a youth; what kind of punishment should be given to such culpable youths for optimum positive results in changing the criminal characteristics and reforming them, while ensuring that they are proportionately punished for their heinous acts?

Many Indians are of the school of thought that these juveniles should also be dealt with an iron fist, and the most severe punishment possible, meted out to them. They believe that the child in question should be sent to jail immediately through the court system, bypassing the Juvenile Justice Board.

Some, including the child protection activists, believe that the Government is succumbing to mob pressure in making the law where in persons  above the age of 16 shall be treated as adults if charged with a serious crime. They feel that the JJ Act is based on the principle of reformative justice and not on retributive justice. The Government, according to them, should rely on expert opinion and not be swayed by popular sentiment. According to Anant Kumar Ashtana, a lawyer in the Delhi High Court, “by suggesting change in the juvenile justice system the Government has not done justice.” He further adds that “the new juvenile law will not reform a juvenile but school him in crime. It is a serious deviation from the system of ‘parens patriae’, a doctrine that believes that the State is the parent of the nation.”

Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, has pointed out that there have been three schools of thought as to how to treat derelict blameworthy youths:

  1. The first one believes the age should not be reduced
  2. The second group felt that the Government should not be vested with the power to condemn the child immediately
  3. The third, overwhelmingly majority of people, believe that the delinquent juvenile should be treated as an adult and sent to jail. Maneka Gandhi says that the Union Cabinet has taken into consideration the feedback of all the three schools of thought, and chosen a middle path, wherein the Government has no right to interfere and the child is treated as an adult based on recommendation from the JJ board after scrutiny.  She feels that the JJ board is a competent authority to judge, as it consists of the best psychologists and experts.

CONCLUSION

The nature of a criminal, whatever society does  for him, if he is by nature a person of criminal intent , he will one day will bite society with its poison. Irony is that, even a hatchling, when gets a bit older, is  a Juvenile. If we harbor such juveniles even when they have returned from their  three  years of detention in a  correction home, they will never leave their  nature of biting and poisoning society..

It is also pertinent to mention that 90% of crimes that have  been committed in India, especially against women, are committed by juveniles. Such crimes are either done by them independently or they are a party to such offence.. Why and how   they reached to  an extent where they  commit such an offence like, robbery, theft, dacoity, extortion, murder, etc., have never been thought of. According to NCRB figures for 2009, the largest number of cases involving juveniles were thefts followed by causing hurt and burglaries, besides rioting. The primary reasons are attributed to inadequacy in juvenile care and protection schemes of Governments. The Government homes are in bad shape where reforming of children takes a backseat and stigma stays with them. Sometimes the very fact of being a juvenile ensures that they get only mild punishment. This is the reason why organized criminal gangs are increasingly employing juveniles. The lack of tolerance and exposure to sex and violence is creating problems within the social setup. Most of the schools are also witnessing an increase in youngsters indulging in unruly and unacceptable behavior. According to NCRB data, 34527 juveniles were apprehended all over India during 2007 out of which 32671 were boys and 1856 were girls.

juveniles committing offences like rape, as the best known example is the Nirbhaya Delhi Rape case, where the Juvenile is sent to correction home merely for 3 years. However,  are they really being  corrected?. This amendment in JJ Act also gives the other criminals a way to achieve their heinous offences by employing juveniles, sometimes by force, since they are aware that they will be free after 3 years and then again can join their  gang as a mature criminal.

Therefore, according to me, the minors committing HEINOUS offences should not be considered as Juveniles, since we are eventually harbouring a snake who would never leave its nature of inflicting poison. A bite by a hatchling leads to paralysis, but when a snake bites, it leads to death. Similarly, when a minor commits an offence (heinous/ non heinous), and we send him to correction home for 3 years detention without punishing him, but  he comes back in society, he is a full, mature adult and we do not know what to expect from home.

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