“So now a 16 year old can also be called a criminal when otherwise he was just a juvenile committing crime under someone’s influence.” Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 which is undergoing a few amendments is now proposed to reduce the age of criminal to be tried at the adult court from 18 to 16. The criminal can though only be sentenced to jail term and not with death or life imprisonment.
While for maximum in the country this is a fair deal, I wonder how do the numbers matter? Yesterday it was 18, today it is 16 and tomorrow it can be made 14 years. The question is that if someone is adult enough to rape or murder at any age then isn’t that person adult enough to be tried at the adult court? And if the juveniles do such heinous crimes under the influence of adults then how will reducing the age make a difference? Even a 14 year old kid can also be influenced and so can a 12 year old be. According to the laws then is someone of the age of 15 years, 11 months and 29 days not guilty enough?
Another term of the new proposal says that the Juvenile Justice Board has to decide whether the criminal has to be tried at the court or referred to a correction centre. There is no training for members of Juvenile Justice Boards. They will just send everybody to jail. Laws are so faulty that within one month JJBs will have to determine the circumstances of the offence and decide on whether to transfer the case.
Why have we chosen the model of lowering the age? What are the evidences available with the government to say this is the only method available to deal with children? You cannot be responding to laws by emotions. A major myth is being propagated by media and the government that by giving severe punishment, crime will come down.
We increased punishment for rapes to maximum 10 years in 1983. We made it death penalty in 2013. Did the crime rate drop? So, by transferring minors to adult system, you are not going to make the crime rate come down nor are we making victims feel secure by sending juveniles into jails. We are actually going to do more harm. The remedy is worse than the malady.
I personally feel that a crime is only committed when the criminal is not afraid of the punishment. One has to understand that it is not the quantum of punishment that matters but certainty. We have to look at those conditions why these youngsters are committing a crime rather than responding to the situation. We need to find out why they are doing so. One has to understand every child who commits a barbaric offence has to have a background of barbaric abuse to him to start with. We did not do anything to address that.
The focus now has to shift to prison reforms, on ensuring that the minors send to jail are segregated, they are given vocational training and keep a track on them. All that has to be focused. But there should be a debate on alternatives also, for example, a suspended sentence. The sentence should be suspended for three years and then experts should be allowed to work with the offender for three years to see whether he can be reformed. If he manages, he should be given a chance.
With inputs from Dr. Ved Kumari, Law Professor at Faculty of Law.
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