India’s juvenile justice laws have been under the scanner in recent weeks, with many activists and women’s rights groups arguing that the law is too lenient for those being prosecuted for crimes including murder and rape. The maximum punishment for such crimes is three years’ confinement in a reformatory, as opposed to the death sentence in cases where an adult is found guilty of murder or rape.
In the wake of the assault, attempts were made to overhaul India’s juvenile laws, with several citizens filing legal petitions seeking to lower the age of a minor from 18 to 16. India’s Supreme Court has rejected eight such petitions and is still deliberating over another, which demands a minor be tried in juvenile court according to his or her “mental and intellectual maturity,” rather than being tried according to their age.
Juvenile delinquency is a growing problem in much of the world. Unlike the United States and England, Indian courts do not have jurisdiction over neglected children; India’s definition of delinquency is clearer and more in keeping with the United Nations concept. U.S. studies have shown that delinquency cuts across all economic and social classes, and even the Soviet Union is experiencing a delinquency problem. India’s juvenile crime problem is increasing but is not as acute as in advanced countries. Urbanization, mobility, and industrialization are influencing juvenile behavior; delinquency does not flourish in small, well-knit communities where everyone knows each other. As India becomes more developed, it pays the price in terms of more juvenile delinquency, crime, and other social problems. Future prevention efforts should emphasize compulsory religious and moral education.
Since we are so obsessed with aping US , then why not try what they do. When you are 16, you can be tried both as an adult or a minor, it is that simple. You don’t have to do major amendments, just an option. No reductions in marriageable ages or child labour acts. That would be 18 only.
Not many agree with the suggestion that reducing the age of juvenile to 16 will solve the issue. “There should be no change in the age of juveniles. If a juvenile commits crime (like rape or murder), it is the failure of the system. Punishing a child like an adult can’t be approved. Crimes of a monstrous nature are never committed by a juvenile alone. He/she has the support of adults,” says Nina P Nayak, member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
In India, the age of criminal responsibility is fixed at 7 years by the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860. “Nothing is an offence which is done by a child under seven years of age.” For the age group of 8 to 12 years, sec 83 of IPC lays down “Nothing is an offence which is done by a child above seven years of age and under twelve, who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge of the nature and consequences of his conduct on that occasion.”
Therefore, to avail this immunity, the accused child will have to prove that he has not attained the maturity to judge what he was doing was wrong. For children between 12 to 18 years, there is no such immunity available. But however, even if they are found to be responsible for criminal acts, they cannot be treated or sentenced in the same manner as adults.
In the question of the determination of juvenility, there have been several debates as to the relevant date at which the juvenility is to be determined. Though the courts including the Apex court have held the date of offence was the relevant date, but still in the case of Arnit Das v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court observed that the juvenility was to be determined on the date on which the offender was produced before the competent authority. This judgement by the two judge bench was widely critiqued as this deprived from the benefits of the juvenile legislation. This decision also did not consider an earlier three judge bench decision of the Supreme Court in Umesh Chandra v. State of Rajasthan where it was observed that the relevant date for the determination of juvenility is the date of occurrence of the offence and not the date of trial. However, this controversy was put to an end by the five judge Bench decision of the Supreme Court in Pratap Singh v. State of Jharkhand and ors. In this case, the Apex court observed “The reckoning date for the determination of juvenility is the date of the offence and not the date when he is produced before the authority or the court”. The decision of the Umesh Chandra case was held to be proper and the decision of the Arnit Das case was said not to have laid down a good law.
Juvenile crime in urban areas in India rose by 40% between 2001-10, says a news report.“They are generally single earning members, having a family size of between five and seven members, holding skilled or semi skilled jobs, school drop out of juvenile,” said researchers in ‘The State of the Urban Youth India 2012: Employment, Livelihoods, Skills’, published by Mumbai-based IRIS Knowledge Foundation (IKF).
Researchers found that juveniles in conflict with law were largely from low income working families.
A study in Maharashtra has revealed that the majority of the juveniles in conflict with law (JICL) are between 16 and 18 years. The predominant offence charge was related to ‘theft’, followed by ’assault’.The report, which centres around urban youth, also stated that rapid growth of the information highway has also led to cybercrime involving teenagers and youth.The figures reveal that in India, there are 430 million people between 15-34 years of age, with the youth comprising 35% of the urban population and 32% of rural population. Overall, three-fourths of young urban men and women are educated up to middle and secondary levels of schooling, though there are variations across the states.The overall population in India between 2001 and 2006 is expected to increase from 1,029 million to 1,400 million. There are 158.8 million children between the age of 0-6 years, a fall from 163.8 million in 2001.
In the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape case and the alleged involvement of the juvenile suspect, there was renewed attention on the efficacy of the juvenile justice system in India because of the maximum sentence the boy could receive. A debate over lowering the age of adult criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 years followed.
In India, if children as young as 7 and those below 18 commit offences, they are recognized as “juveniles in conflict with law.” The rules state that the police can only apprehend a juvenile for an offence if it warrants a punishment of seven years or more under the Indian penal code.
The National Crime Report Bureau of India, which maintains a record of reported crimes, lists 31, 973 crimes that were committed by juveniles in 2012, compared to 27,541 in 2002. In Delhi alone, 1,171 cases were registered against juveniles during the past year. The states of Bihar and Chhattisgarh saw almost double that, and Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra reported over four times the Delhi level. India’s Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection Children) Act of 2000 requires the creation of juvenile homes in every Indian state. According to a recent survey by the Asian Center for Human Rights, 733 such homes received assistance from the Ministry of Women and Child Development in March 2012.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) JJ(C&P) Act was enacted to consolidate and amend the law relating to juveniles in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection, by providing for proper care, protection and treatment by catering to their development needs, and by adopting a child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposition of matters in the best interest of children and for their ultimate rehabilitation through various institutions established under this enactment.The Juvenile Justice Act 1986 was repealed by this Act. Any action taken under the former Act would be deemed to have been taken under corresponding provisions of this new Act .
First of all, the Act defines the ‘juvenile’ or ‘child’ as a person who has not completed 18 years of age . ‘Juvenile in conflict with law’ means a juvenile who is alleged to have committed an offence . An important change brought about by the Act was to replace the existing Juvenile Welfare Board with the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) .
When the main idea behind the enactment of juvenile legislation was “welfare”, then the society also has an important role to play in matters regarding juveniles. The important sections of the society to provide help can be, the lawyers, policemen, media and other social workers including NGOs. The lawyers can extend a lot of help to the juveniles by providing free legal help and assistance to them. There are many juvenile offenders, who have to suffer a lot only because they cannot afford some lawyers to defend them. Providing free legal aid to them can lessen their sufferings.
The police personnel and specially SJPU can work together with the social workers or NGOs for better working of the apprehension of juveniles. They can be trained in child psychology and in case if needed, NGOs can seek the charge of the juvenile in the capacity of a “fit person” or “fit institution”. There are also provisions where, the voluntary organisations can set up observational or special homes, in agreement with the state government. Media, also being a double edged tool, can play an important role. Instead of displaying violence and crime; what can be done is that, they can show the violence or the crime scenes, giving the message how bad it is and what happens to the wrong doers.
Finally, statistics show that the numbers of crimes committed by the juveniles are rapidly increasing. Therefore, it is high time that we start taking care of these juveniles and stop them from treading the wrong path. India, today needs children who can grow up to be responsible citizens of tomorrow.
It’s time for all the parents to take this wake up call seriously, no matter which income group they fall into; it’s all about preventing their child from losing the balance and living a trouble free and respectable life, in years to come. It is the question of their career. And this independence has not been achieved so easily. Many had to sacrifice their lives. Today, the country is not asking for sacrifice, it is just asking for attention of parents on their dear ones at the most crucial time in their life. Just a few years of check and the country would soon turn into a paradise managed by honest, hard working and sensible citizens. Lastly, Perhaps, instead of focusing on the results and punishments of youth crime; the government should be concentrating on causes and solutions to youth crime?
Why do children commit these crimes? Because they have nothing to lose. Children brought up in a less privileged environment, with poor education and not much chance of good employment can find themselves automatically placed into the category of unredeemable. No time is spent attempting to get them off the streets and into something productive; hence the fact that over the years these kids have been systematically forgotten and rejected by society. As their way to combat this, the kids themselves have formed their own societies and wayoflife. This society is mainly orientated by peer pressure and the macho type competitiveness that spawns crime – they suffer under the delusion that ‘street credibility’ holds more worth than a sense of morality.
The government needs to aim it’s attack on youth crime, back towards youth reformation and attempt to tackle the original problem – the environment and circumstances that push the kids into the situation of committing street crimes. You can’t end a circle of violence by punishment – only by providing the help that wasn’t available in the first place. Young offenders are the product of the government’s negligence towards the parents or the children themselves; someone needs to take responsibility for these children rather than temporarily disposing of them within young offenders institutions.
*The Writer is a Lawyer and work on Human Rights & socio-legal awareness