Amended JJ Bill – Perspectives
It is reported on all the news papers that the Union Cabinet cleared the Juvenile Justice Bill, under which a minor above 16 years involved in a serious crime could be tried in an adult court if the Juvenile Justice Board decides so. The Juvenile Justice Act will be changed to allow for trial of juveniles in the age group of 16-18 years accused of heinous crimes under the Indian Penal Code, with the New Government bowing to public clamour for tough deterrent against young criminals who go unpunished because of the lenient provisions under the law. As per the changes cleared by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday, Juvenile Justice Boards will determine whether a juvenile accused of a heinous crime ought to be treated as a “child” or adult”. The proposed Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill also provides for the classification of different crimes as “petty”, “serious” and “heinous”, providing for differentiated processes for each category. Under the existing law, only those 18 years and above are tried under IPC. The decision heeds the demand for tougher punishment for the hardened among “juvenile criminals”, which spiked in the wake of the Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi in December 2012. One of the accused in the crime which shook the nation because of its sheer monstrosity was a juvenile who was the most brutal of the gang which ravaged the young physiotherapy student (Times of India).
UNICEF India expressed concern over the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act, under which minors above the age of 16 involved in a serious crime can be tried in an adult court, and said such a decision was a "real step back". With the enactment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act in 2000, India's juvenile justice legislations was brought in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and international standards, focusing on some of the key principles of juvenile justice which deprivation of liberty as last resort, restorative and reformative justice, diversion and alternative sentencing, and separate protection structures and qualified personnel. The UN CRC (article 40.1) states that children who are accused of offences should be tried separately from adults "in a manner consistent with the child's sense of dignity and worth".
"Worldwide evidence shows that the process of judicial waiver or transfer of juvenile cases to adult courts have not resulted in reduction of crime or recidivism. Instead, investments in a working system of treatment and rehabilitation of children have shown to lead to better results in reducing recidivism," said Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF Country Representative.
Most juvenile remand homes are in appalling condition and need a massive overhaul. But whether redrafting the law will bring down juvenile crime is the moot question. What is required better remand homes, more specialised care rather than to expose young people to the trauma and stigma of adult jails.
According to the National Crime Record bureau data shows that the number of children booked in this age group across the country for heinous crimes in 2012 was only 6,747. One year later, NCRB data shows, the figure has gone up to 6,854. As per the census report there are over 6.5 crore belong to the age group of 16-18. It seems difficult to believe that the government is amending the existing Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000 which allows for the adoption of a special approach towards the treatment and rehabilitation of underage offenders and is coming up with a new law by which underage kids accused of heinous crimes will be treated on par with adults simply in order to deal with such a minuscule number.
The motivation for introducing this law gained momentum because of the dark memories evoked by the Nirbhaya case where the Delhi police spun a yarn before the media, claim the most brutal attack on the defenceless victim came from the underage offender who succeeded in escaping the death sentence only because he was a juvenile.
Child rights activist Minna Kabir, wife of the former chief justice Altamas Kabir, has spent several decades working with juveniles agrees that parents tend to pass off love affairs as rape. Dissecting the NCRB statistics, she points out that 50 per cent of the rape charges on investigation turn out to be love affairs while 30 per cent are cases of exploratory sex by boys in the age group of 12-14 years which cases can be attributed to lack of sex education and increasing exposure to sexually explicit messages in movies, ads and the social media.
We strongly condemn all sexual violence, be it by adults or juveniles. None of it can be justified by any means whatsoever. But we also condemn pitching human rights of women against human rights of children since that will not provide an answer to creating a healthy society. All we want is a dialogue with the government before a final decision in this regard is taken.
Don Bosco which basically working for the welfare of the children suggests that the ministry has to do a rethinking over the amendment and demanding more informed engagement on this issue. Neither group majority nor anger and rage should decide law reform, especially since India has ratified the 1992 UN Convention on child rights. Ministry should realize the need to strengthen the education system since juveniles in trouble usually hail from families which are in trouble as the case of the Delhi juvenile shows. A criminal child or an adolescent is the responsibility of the society and not the children. There is a need to make systems which will care for children before they reach to such an impasse.