Trying Juveniles as Adults: Welcome Change or Step in Wrong Direction

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The term ‘Juvenile’ has been defined as ‘relating to or meant for young people who have committed crimes.” According to Section 2(k) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, a juvenile is any person who has not attained the age of 18 years. This act is the primary measure to discern guilt and regulate proceedings pertaining to cases of juveniles in India.

After the horrific Delhi Rape Case of 2012, in which one of the six perpetrators was a juvenile and was consequently let off easy without any major punishment inspite of playing an active role in the activity, there were mass protests about treating the juvenile same as the others. It was widely discussed and opined that in such heinous cases the juvenile has already lost the innocence or lack of judgement and is in spirit not a child anymore even though his age may be less. Thus it might prove to be a bane, that this act may be misused by the young people to get away with a light sentence even after committing such gruesome or morally shocking crimes.

The Delhi Rape Incident thus paved way for numerous debates and discussions being held nationwide at the grass root level as well as a political and higher level as to whether the age bar for juvenile determination should be relaxed in certain exceptional cases. The latest development on this front came in the form of the Union Cabinet’s approval to treat juveniles between the ages of 16 to 18 years as adults for the purpose of trial in heinous cases. On the basis of this approval of the Cabinet, a bill will now be introduced in the current Parliament session for the approval of the Parliament. The main purpose behind this amendment is to make sure that the ends of justice are not defeated due to certain legal provisions.  It is also believed that this will help instil the fear of punishment in the young wrong doers and hence act as a deterrent, thus bringing down the speedily rising number of juvenile delinquents. According to the reports of leading newspapers, the number of juveniles accused of violent crimes against women has increasedfrom 484 in 2002 to 1149 in 2011.

The proposed legislation, which if passed, would replace theJuvenile Justice Act, 2000 which has now made different classes of crimesbeing petty, serious and heinous. There are also separate processes and procedures defined for each separate category. The bill has also gone on to provide that incase of a heinous crime committed by a person between 16 and 18 years of age, it will be examined by the Juvenile Justice Board so as to decide whether for the purpose of prosecution the person is to be treated as a child or an adult.The government has also gone on to clarify that such a Board will also have psychological and social experts, thus making sure that the rights of the juvenile are duly recognised and protected.

The whole reason behind creating a separate mechanism for the juveniles was because it was believed that a juvenilelacks the maturity to understand the gravity of his actions. More often than not it is found that the child committed the crime under the influence of an adult or because he was threatened or wrongly motivated by an adult. Then there is also the fact that a child is still growing and hence may not fully appreciate the consequences due to which he may in fact turn vindictive, while also getting into the wrong company in adult prisons, thus starting him completely on the path of crime from which there is no turning back.

Another panel for this debate includes thoselot who believe that juveniles should not be let off easy and in fact should be tried as adults since they have committed the crime. These people are mostly family members or loved ones of people who have been victims of crimes committed by juveniles. These people believe that letting a juvenile off easy for a crime is injustice to the aggrieved party since they have the right to make sure that the perpetrator pays for his crimes. As goes the famous adage, “if you do the crime you got to do the time.” These people believe that juvenile criminals committing such horrendous acts are already past the stage where they can be rehabilitated and reformed, and in fact letting them off with an easy sentence is like giving them a license to go on committing such crimes because they will hardly receive any sentence for it. Some also believe that lenient sentencing for juveniles will in fact raise instances of juvenile delinquency instead of curbing it.

The society is still divided on whether this move to treat juveniles as adults in heinous cases is morally and practically right or wrong. However, since this applies only in cases of extreme brutality or lack of morality on the part of the juvenile, this action can be justified that the victim of a crime should not be denied justice only because the perpetrator was not above a certain age bar, especially when such a heinous or gross crime has been suffered by the victim. Further it is the role of Legislature while enacting such statutes and of the Judiciary while interpreting such, that to ascertain the requirement of the societal aspects relating to such crimes and that no person (be it the victim or the accused) shall suffer due to the lacunas in the enactment of such legislations.

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