Polity

Crimes by Juveniles in India

Crimes by Juveniles in India
Background
The gang-rape of a young girl, Nirbhaya on December 16, 2012, had shocked the collective conscience of the nation. The absolute brutality with which the heinous act was committed was barbaric, and among the five accused, one was a minor. In the Shakti Mills Rape case, another minor was involved. These and several more recently mounting cases have opened the doors to a public debate that the present Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 which treats persons below the age of 18 years as minor or juvenile, should be amended in order to accommodate all recent cases.

Crimes committed by juveniles is a sad reality in India, which is on the rise. It is believed by many experts that the present laws are insufficient and inadequate to deal with the graveness of the situation since juveniles are not tried and punished as adults for crimes that are as heinous as gangrape or murder or abduction. Jurists and lawmakers are divided on their opinions regarding the issue of juvenile crimes. While most of them believe that juveniles, who fall anywhere in the range between a child and an adult, act on external stimuli which force them to commit violent acts; there are many who do not subscribe to this view. They hold that equality before the law should be practised in its truest sense and the nature of the crime should determine the punishment, irrespective of the age of the criminal.

What does the term “juvenile” mean?
In legal terms, a juvenile is defined as a “child who has not attained a certain age at which he/she can be held liable for his/her criminal acts like an adult under the law of the country”. According to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000, a juvenile shall not be treated as an adult even if he/she is involved in any criminal acts for trial and punishment in the court of law. Though in common tongue, the terms “juvenile” and “minor” are used interchangeably, these terms have different meanings in the legal context. The term juvenile is used to refer to a young criminal offender while the term minor explains the legal capacity or majority of a person.

Statistics
Among juveniles, experts have noticed that there is a specific trend that juveniles who fall between the age of 16 to 18 years are found to be more involved in heinous criminal offences. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records data that shows that out of the 43,506 crimes registered against minors under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Special Local Law (SLL) by juveniles, 28,830 had been committed by those who fall between the age of 16 to 18 years. Statistics show the percentage of juveniles found to be in hot water with the law under the IPC and the SLL has risen 13.6% and 2.5%, respectively, in 2013, as compared with the statistics in 2012. The NCRB also showed that only 3.5% of all juveniles arrested for various crimes in 2016 were homeless, thus challenging the view that homeless children are more prone to be engaged in violent and criminal acts. From growing cases of divorce, dysfunctional families, abuse at home and outdoors, it can be ascertained that children below the age of 18 are finding it difficult to cope up with situations and committing crimes as an outlet, criminal experts say.

What are the causes of juvenile crimes?
Psychiatrists believe that some of the most common causes which are associated with juvenile crimes are poverty, drug abuse, peer pressure, abuse, family violence and very importantly, the role played by mass media, especially social media. Pornography has also been a controversial topic that has been associated with fuelling juvenile crimes.

Present legislation
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 lays down that juveniles who are in conflict with the law or juvenile offenders are to be kept in ‘Observation Homes’ while children in need of care and protection need to be kept in ‘Children Homes’ during the pendency of proceedings before the competent authority. A juvenile can be detained only for a maximum period of 3 years, irrespective of the gravity of the offence committed by him/her and he/she will be remanded to ‘Special Home’. The Act provides immunity to the children who are less than 18 Years of age at the time of committing the offence from trial through Criminal Courts or any punishment under Criminal Law, in view of Section 17 of the Act. The purpose of the Act was to rehabilitate the child and send him/her back to mainstream society, as a child has the possibility of getting reformed due to his/her young age and lack of maturity and it is the responsibility of the State to protect and reform him/her.

Following the public uproar against the increasing number of crimes being committed by juveniles, the Government decided to amend the present law. The major issues that were to be amended were as follows:

•Offences are to be clearly defined as “petty”, “serious” or “heinous”

•Since the increasing number of serious offences being committed by juveniles fall between the age group of 16-18 years, it is proposed that such heinous offences should be dealt with in special manner.

•The Juvenile Justice Board is to have psychologists and social experts who would make sure that the rights of the juvenile are duly protected if the crime was committed as a child.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act was passed by the Parliament in 2015 replacing the existing Indian juvenile delinquency law, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. It included the provision to try juveniles between the ages of 16-18 who were involved with heinous crimes, as adults. This bill also introduced foster care in India.

Views of the public
A large number of people are demanding amendments in the Act, due to the unprecedented rates of juvenile crime in the country. While the juvenile criminal may be below 18 years of age, but studies have shown that many times, these criminals commit the atrocities with full knowledge of the consequences. It has also been said that due to the influence of mass media, children nowadays attain mental maturity quite early. Keeping these in mind and also to provide justice to the victims, it has been argued that the Act must make provisions for the perpetrators to be punished.

The other group, which does not subscribe to this view, holds that a law should not be changed because of a few scattered incidents. They believe that the foremost thing that is to be considered is whether the perpetrator can be reformed, and strict punishment should only be the last resort. The proponents of this view also argue that it is not the child’s fault but the fault of the environment and society that he/she grew up in, which contributed to making him/her commit violent crimes.




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