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Amending juvenile law not a solution

Jan 23, 2013

On heels of the ongoing debate on the issue of amending Juvenile Justice Act 2000, sections of civil society have come heavily on suggestions to amend the laws covering juvenile, especially with regard to reducing their age when it comes to trying young people for criminal offences.

 

Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar added steam to the debate when he advocated for reducing juvenile age from 18 to 16 years. He based his argument that minors are maturing fast and considering the gravity of the offences they are getting involved in, there is a need to reduce the legal age of a juvenile delinquent.

However, the idea has drawn strong criticism from the children’s rights groups who think amending juvenile law will not act as a deterrent.

“We are all socked by the heinous crime committed on the girl. But we believe that the demand to reduce the age of a juvenile to 16, if accepted, will have dangerous consequences on the plight of lakhs of other juveniles,” says Dola Mohapatra, National Director, ChildFund India.

The debate has come to life in the backdrop of gang-rape and murder of a 23-year old physiotherapy student last month in Delhi in which one of the accused is a minor. Many have advocating for the reduction of juvenile age bar to 16 – arguing that the nature of the crime belies the innocence one associates with children.

Recently, Krishna Tirath, Minister of State (Independent charge), Women and Child Development, Government of India, suggested stringent punishment in the 'rarest of rare crimes' like the Delhi gang-rape but straightforwardly rejected the idea of lowering juvenile age bar to 16 years.

The civil society argues that 18 years of age for juvenile has come up after many long discourses, discussions and debates which were held globally as well as nationally. According to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989, a child is a person up to the age of 18 years. Being a signatory to UNCRC, India is therefore committed to uphold the spirit of the convention in its domestic legislations. Infact, India was one of the first countries which ratified this convention.

In an effort to synchronise its child labour law with the ILO convention 182, also known as Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999, India is under the process of amending its existing child labour law to redefine the age of a child from 14 years to18 years. So, if the juvenile age is reduced to 16 years, it is going to affect other laws too, argues Kailash Satyarthi, Founder, Bachapan Bachao Andolan.

“I think lowering the age of juvenile in Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 is not a solution. This is neither going to bring more justice to this case nor is it going to solve the issue of crime against women. The problem is that the Juvenile Justice Act as it exists is not implemented properly,” says Shireen Vakil Miller, Director of Advocacy and Policy, Save the Children.

“People need to understand, even if the law is changed and juvenile age is decreased to 16 years, the minor who was involved in Delhi gang-rape can be punished under that law. The law will be for future and not for cases that occurred in the past,” asserts Satyarthi.

Satyarthi suggests that juveniles involved in heinous crimes should be made to stay in juvenile homes or observation homes for longer period of time and could be subjected to more restrictions so that the whole process will be reformative and they need not to stay with other adult criminals.

National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for Delhi suggests that cases of murder committed by juveniles have increased by 85 per cent between 2001 and 2011, robbery by 540 per cent, cheating by 211 per cent and theft by 51.46 per cent. The NCRB further reveals that this trend is consistent nationwide.

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