May 2: The government is once again tabling the amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and protection of Children) Bill introduced in Parliament last year overruling the recommendations of a parliamentary committee that was formed to study the matter.
The committee had suggested reconsideration of certain clauses especially the one that allow juveniles aged between 16 and 18 to be tried as adults for heinous crimes like rape, murder, decoity and acid attacks. The proposed amendment bill entails that the juvenile will be examined by the Juvenile Justice Board to gauge whether the crime was committed as a ‘child’ or as an ‘adult’. Such an assessment will be made by the Board with the help of team of psychologists and social experts to ensure that the juvenile’s rights are protected. While the amendment bill may tone down the fury of the public who entreated an amendment to the law, there are many who believe that the proposed act violates the rights of the child.
But for the involvement of the minor who was the most brutal of the five accused in Nirbhaya rape and murder case the fresh Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act would not have attracted any attention or reaction from the general public.
As the minor involved in Nirbhaya case has been given a light sentence (rehabilitation centre for 3 years) as per the existing children friendly laws there was a hue and cry all over the country. Heeding to this the government has introduced a fresh bill in parliament last year. There was a shrill cry for amending juvenile case earlier following the 26/11 Mumbai attack where an attempt was made to project Ajmal Kasab as 17 year old juvenile. Imagine if Ajmal Kasab was to be sent to rehabilitation centre to walk home as a free bird after 3 years of rehabilitation!
Amendments to Juvenile Justice Law was also demanded by many who felt the law endangers security once it was a common knowledge that the terrorists were making use of the loopholes and were deploying juveniles in this age group to carry out terrorist activities in India. It is said that in India’s northern most state Kashmir and southern state Kerala terrorists have taken advantage of these loopholes to coax juveniles into carrying out terrorist acts. Similarly there have been reports in the media that Pak based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba has been deploying Juveniles for carrying out terrorist activities in India so that they are tried under Juvenile Justice Act and not under IPC.
Sharp increase in juvenile crimes
According to data available for the last 10 years with National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) it is revealed that hat rape is the fastest growing crime among juveniles. Nearly 86 per cent of teens arrested teens for crimes belong to poor families which cannot rule out the fact that the widening gap between the rich and the poor put forth by some elements during the height of the Nirbhaya case is one of the causes for increase in such crimes. However, the survey rejects the claim of many who say such crimes are committed by teens from broken families. Instead it is revealed that nearly 81 per cent of the teens arrested in 2013 came from normal families who lived with their parents. That rape is one of the major crimes committed by teens is evident from the fact that juveniles in the age group of 16-18 arrested in the age group of 16 to 18 rose 288 per cent between 2003 and 2013.
NCRB has much more incriminating data clearly showing that juvenile crimes are on the rise in all states. Even then child protection activists argue that the existing law which considers 18 years as a cut off age for trial is quite benevolent. Benevolent because the law is based on the basic principle that the intellectual senses of a child keep growing till 18 and their sense of distinguishing between the right and the wrong is fragile till they attain the cut off age of 18. In other words it means they cannot distinguish between cause and effect and therefore their crime needs to be treated lightly with additional focus on rehabilitation. The activists also argue that trying these children in adult courts will hamper the chances of their rehabilitation and they may end up as hard core criminals when they come out of jail after completion of their jail term. Experts and activists are also of the view that the government jumped into the bandwagon to accede to the demands raised by people due to the media blitzkrieg following the Delhi rape case and cautioned the government to exercise restraint.
While both for and against arguments have their own merits and demerits, it cannot be denied that all laws have loopholes and there are people who will exploit these loopholes for their own advantage. Therefore, there is an urgent need to think in terms of the impact it will have from the point of view of children. Though amendment to the existing law is necessary to foil any attempts to attack our country, the parliament must take time to effect necessary changes after consultation involving the stakeholders rather than act in haste. Adopting a middle path is the best option especially to ensure that terrorists don’t take advantage of these lacunae in the law.