Age of Juvenility: Need of Reduction from 18 to 16

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[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#0d0ab5″]L[/mks_dropcap]exicon meaning of the term Juvenile is ‘a young person, not fully developed who displays or suggests lack of maturity’. On the similar conceptual line the term has been legally defined under Section 2(k) of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 as any person below the age of eighteen years. In the light of the United Nation Convention on Child Rights, amendment was brought in the Act of 1986 and hence the age of juvenility among boys was increased from 16 years to 18 years. The Act of 2000 has its operation broadly over two categories of Juvenile of Child, namely, Juvenile in Conflict with Law and Child in need of Care and Protection. Juvenile in Conflict with Law refers to such child who has acted in contravention of the prescribed law or omitted to act as per the norms of prescribed law, hence has committed a crime.

The causes of delinquent behavior among juveniles are varied. Poverty, illiteracy, emotional and mental stress are the major compelling factors for juvenile delinquency. The study ‘Root Causes of Juvenile Crimes’, carried out in collaboration with the Department of Women and Child Development and the UNICEF, revealed that a majority that is 94% of the boys in the observation homes were not under parental care. Also, about 89 per cent of them came from poor economic background. Further the Study found that those facing economic stress in their day-to-day lives are forced to work at a young age where they get in touch with anti-social groups. Delinquency is a condition arising in the matrix of socio-personal disorganization in the sequence of experience and influences that shape behavior problems. This signifies that factors influencing ones behavior can be a result out of external forces pertaining to the society. A child brought up in an ill-cultured society or in a hostile environment is more likely to pick up shortcuts and defy the norms to fulfill his needs.

A child is characterized with undeveloped cognitive faculties. Expecting, from a child, a calculated act of crime as similar to an adult – to carefully analyze the outcome and consequences of the act in question is erroneous in itself. An act by a child is less of product of their mental capacity and more of reflection of the situations he is reared in. Unfortunately this issue of immediate import also mirrors the failed face of the democracy. India the largest democracy in the world and Republic for more than 60 years is yet to provide its children a secured and decent place to live and grow in. The system which has fallen short to carry out its function has directly or indirectly contributes and encourages the problem of delinquency among juveniles. But the same system cries for their blood when they relinquish aggression to someone more vulnerable than them and hence tries to seek to reverse the power equation. Therefore eyebrows are bound to raise when the system imposes punishment on the juveniles for an act for which it itself is one of the causal agents.

According to National Crime Record Bureau, 2011 the percentage of juvenile crimes to total crimes is around 1% during 2001 to 2011. However the increasing trend in the crime of murder, rape and another crime under IPC remains a matter of grave concern.  The juvenile IPC crimes in 2011 have increased by 10.5% over 2010 as during 2010 22,740 IPC crimes by juveniles were registered which increased to 25,125 cases in 2011. This put the judiciary and legislature in a state of quandary as to at what point of life of a person he should be considered to be mentally upright to understand an act and its consequences. With recent cases of deplorable acts by juveniles against humanity itself, special reference to Nirbhaya case where a young woman was subjected to inhumane torture and pain by the offenders one of who was a juvenile, which ultimately resulted into death of the victim, a necessary dilemma arises that whether the age of juvenility shall be reduced from eighteen years to sixteen years.

According to the reformist and the restorative schools of thought the object of punishment the one where the offender is reformed and brought back to the normal functioning of the society. Punishment is not always an effective response to youths’ behaviour. According to sociologist Edwin Lemert claims that through repeated interaction between someone identified as deviant and authority figures which involves labeling, the individual recognises his identity around a more deviant role, thus this increases the likelihood of further acts of deviance.  Punishment is a means to attain the end of peaceful and civilized society.  To attain the said end punishment can vary in its form as to proportionately address the criminal act. Indian penal system provides for punishments ranging from monetary fine, simple and rigorous imprisonment to imprisonment for life and also death sentence. A rider attached here is the quantum of punishment has to be decided by the Court after pondering over the facts and circumstances of the case, mental and physical status of the convict, age of the convict and other relevant factors.  Also these factors are taken into consideration for dilution of punishment for a criminal act. Likewise punishment given to delinquent juvenile shall depend on the factor instrumental in making delinquent rather than on the offense committed. This renders the argument fallacious that person of age of eighteen years who is legally eligible to elect his representative is also suppurate enough to calculate the risk of an act of criminal character and therefore shall be tried under the Indian penal system as an adult. Majorly the gravity of the crime, the inherent characteristics of brutality and depravity is considered to be a parameter of the culpability of the perpetrator. It would not be a smooth sailing to determine a specific age for mental discretion.

In common parlance the maturity of a juvenile is measured in terms of information he holds. In a scientifically advanced society of ours were social media is in easy reach of everybody, to seek information regarding anything under the sun is a kid’s gloves. This gives rise to the question- is a well-informed person necessarily a well- qualified person? Does maturity of brain is a function of the information it stores? The answer to these doubts is negative for both scientific and social reasons. Eighteen has been universally recognized as age of immature discretion which requires no amendment as of present dealings of the day.

The system of rules shall test the waters before bringing out amendment to the age of juvenility from eighteen years to sixteen years. Treating mislead juveniles as similar to adults would lead to evolution of a youth victimized by the legal system. Instead of pondering over the question, ‘age of juvenility’, hard to answer the legal institution and law enforcement bodies shall adopt an approach addressing the problem from its core. That is to say germane and workable measures shall be taken in order to fulfill the objects of Juvenile Justice system- care, protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of the children. The provisions under law for care and protection of child shall be revived to their full extent. Active functioning of the State to protect and rehabilitate child in need and care and protection, accountability of the concerned authorities failing to discharge their functioning, establishment of more number of special homes and children homes with basic and necessary facilities, cordial and child-friendly decorum at the institutions established under the Juvenile justice Act, 2000.

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