India: Juvenile Justice Act Amendment "Need Of Hour"

Last Updated: 6 November 2013
Article by Rahul Pandey

INTRODUCTION:

"In our country children are considered as a gift from the heaven and if the child is a boy then nothing could be more soothing for the family and from the very beginning children are exempted from severe punishment for any wrong committed on their part irrespective of the gravity of the act".

The Apprentices Act, 1850 was the first legislation dealing with children in conflict with law, providing for binding over of children under the age of 15 years found to have committed petty offences as apprentices. Subsequently, the Reformatory Schools Act, 1897 provided that children up to the age of 15 years sentenced to imprisonment may be sent to reformatory cell.

Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 was enacted by our parliament in order to provide care, protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of neglected or delinquent juveniles and for the adjudication of certain matters relating to, and disposition of, delinquent juveniles as a uniform system of juvenile justice mechanism throughout our country. Under the Act of 1986, Section 2(a) defined the term juvenile as a "boy who has not attained the age of 16 years and a girl who has not attained the age of 18 years" but later on the parliament enacted Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 (herein after 'JJ Act') and the age bar was raised to 18 years for both girl and boy. The JJ Act, 2000 lays down that juvenile in conflict with law may be kept in an observation home while children in need of care and protection need to be kept in a children home during the pendency of proceedings before the competent authority. This provision is in contradistinction with the earlier Acts which provided for keeping all children in an observation home during the pendency of their proceedings, presuming children to be innocent till proved guilty. The maximum detention could be imposed on a juvenile is for 3 years remand to Special Home irrespective of the gravity of offence committed by him and JJ Act, 2000 immunes the child who is less than 18 Years of age at the time of the commission of the alleged offence and from trial through Criminal Court or any punishment under Criminal Law in view of Section 17 of the Juvenile Act.

A GLIMPSE OF JUVENILE LAW IN OTHER COUNTRIES:

  1. In U.S.A age to determine juvenility varies from state to state, in most of the states it is 18 years but in few it is 17 years and 16 years respectively. Many states permit execution of juvenile of 16 years for murder as an adult and could be tried by criminal courts for prosecution and punishment as adults as per the gravity of the alleged offence. Till now many juvenile offenders have been executed under capital punishment but in 2005 Supreme Court of U.S.A in the case of Roper v. Simmons1, held that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18.
  2. In U.K child between 10 to 18 years becomes criminally responsible for his action and be tried by the Youth Court and could be tried in an adult court as per the gravity of the offence committed.
  3. In France no criminal charge can be brought against a child up to the age of ten years; and for child between ten to thirteen years of age, only educational penalties such as placing in a specialized Centre or home are to be given, while between thirteen to sixteen years of age, minors will get only half of the adult sentence. Lastly, between sixteen to eighteen years of age, person would be remanded to Criminal Court and plea of juvenility can be set aside.

The basic rule which is followed by most of the countries legislature is that the plea of juvenility would be set aside and he would be tried in a criminal court if the crime committed by the minor is a heinous one such as murder, rape etc.

CURRENT SCENARIO IN OUR NATION:-

In our country the time has come in order to bring some reform in the Juvenile laws as there is a steep rise in serious crimes involving youth of 16 – 18 years of age and they very well know that below 18 years is the 'getaway pass' for them from the criminal prosecution. The punishment should be made a bit deterrent in order to inject the feeling of fear in the mind of the criminal. The recent rape case of "Nirbhaya" has caused utter dismay, concern and outrage amongst the people. The gruesome act of brutalizing her with an iron rod was done none other but by a juvenile and he has been sentenced for a period of 3 years as per Section 15 of JJ Act, 2000 as per our law for juveniles. The principal ought to have been followed for trying juvenile offenders is that Juvenility should be decided as per the state of mind and not just the state of body.

In our country it's a general trend to get our age reduced by 2-3 years at the time of matriculation so even if the offender is above 18 years but on record he is a juvenile as per his birth certificate then he would be treated as a juvenile. In the recent Nirbhaya's rape case all the other co- accused are awarded death sentence but the person who committed the most brutal part of the case has been awarded a mere 3 years of remand as per JJ Act, 2000.

CONCLUSION:-

The heinous crimes such as rape, murder etc are crimes which totally destroys the moral of the victim's family and if it's a rape then it's a lifelong stigma for the girl and her family member. Many offenders of these crimes walk free after serving a minimal period of sentence after being proven juvenile as per the so called records. Thousands of cases go unreported in our country just because of the stigma attached and most of the time victims are shunned from the society and are left unmarried just because that she was not physically strong enough in order to fight for her freedom from the clutches of the person or persons. The juvenile who commits crime of this gravity should not be left to walk free after serving maximum of 3 years that too in special home. It is high time that the law should be amended on the same footing of countries like U.S, U.K etc where a juvenile is also tried in a criminal court depending on the gravity of the offence committed by the minor.

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Footnote

1. 543 U.S. 551

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