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Juvenile Justice BillThe Rajya Sabha passed the much awaited and contested Juvenile Justice Bill, 2014 on 22nd December 2015 after a public row post the release of the Juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya Gang rape case.

As per the new bill, Juveniles aged between 16- 18 years can now be tried as adults for heinous offences like rape and murder in the criminal courts. This bill will mandate the accused Juvenile to be presented before a Juvenile Justice Board to be comprised under the new bill. This board will decide whether to send the Juvenile for trial as an adult or send him to rehabilitation.

Ostensibly a necessity with the growing Juvenile Delinquency, the idea to pass the bill was somewhat conflicting with the views of those who believed that every Juvenile should be treated equally and that they are not mature enough to understand the gravity of the crime they commit and hence they should not be tried as adults.

When the latter group raises their voice to protect child rights and privileges, I believe we as a society need to ask ourselves who we want to protect, a criminal child properly planning and executing his/ her act or a victim child who commits the crime not knowing what he is doing. There are juvenile offenders like the former and the latter and the ones with the mind and knowledge of the former very well know that regardless of what they do they cannot be put through a trial for the crime they commit.

This bill will not put a juvenile directly into jail but will only enable the psychologists, doctors, social workers forming the Juvenile Justice Board to carefully yield the decision of whether the particular Juvenile offender needs to be tried as an adult or as any other Juvenile.

Are criminals born or are they made? I believe it is not the nature but the nurture what makes a criminal who he is. No one person is born depraved but it is his/ her surroundings, his peers, his family, his background what forces him to take such way.  A juvenile commits a crime in life because he is not able to understand the act he is doing and with the weak laws he starts believing that he can get free every time. With the kind of laws preceding the JJ Bill, 2014, every Juvenile would be sent to a Juvenile home regardless of the intentions, the reasons and the offender’s knowledge of his act. However, the JJ Bill, 2014 will enable the law to separate those who commit the crime knowing what they are doing and those juveniles will not be able to get away simply by raising the Juvenile Banner. It will depend upon the circumstances in each case.

The common argument raised is if a juvenile is old enough to rape he is old enough to suffer as an adult for it. I do not fully support this view because of the fact that sometimes these acts happen as a result of anger, hatred with a childlike mind or as a direct result of cumulative provocation. I agree that these cases do not demand a harsh punishment or treatment but when this is not the case, a deterrent needs to be there which will reduce the ever significantly increasing rates of Juvenile crimes.

The new law is only presuming that with time, growth and development of human species, a child can have the mental capacity for commitment of these heinous offences and even then he will have his fate decided by the Juvenile Justice Board.

India signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child in 1992. The preamble of this convention expressly lays down the rights of the child such as the best environment for a child to grow, the importance of child protection, best interest of the child, recognising child participation. It has been said that JJ Bill, 2014 contravenes this convention as now juveniles can be treated differently. I don’t believe the 2014 bill violates the convention.

Article 3 of this convention states that, “In all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” The new bill in no way violates this provision. I have mentioned it above and will not wary away from mentioning it again that the misconception regarding the fact that every juvenile between 16- 18 years of age will be sent to jail for committing a crime and that they will be tried as adults. The fact is they will only be liable to the decision of the Juvenile Justice Board, a board which will have people capable enough to determine as to the cause of why the child committed the crime and whether it was with a childlike mind or not.

India needs to think and realize that this is the need of the hour for the betterment of the society. The National Crime Rate Bureau (NCRB) clearly shows that there were 28,000 Juvenile offenders out of which 3,887 were offenders of heinous crimes. Research shows that after getting out of Juvenile homes today, these juveniles go onto commit even more sombre crimes. The question that we need to ask is who is responsible for it. Is it the bad condition of the Juvenile homes in rehabilitating the child? Or is it that these children think whatever they do, they will eventually evade the law? If not the former and nor the latter, we should ask ourselves what makes these children get involved into criminal activities in future after coming out of the juvenile homes.

Opposition raised the point that our country with this new bill will be taking revenge from young and innocent children. I fail to understand how the new bill does not protect our young and innocent children. It has at every instance carefully been designed to ensure fairness to the juvenile from separate jails to juvenile justice boards to child welfare committees etc.

I agree that Retribution is never a replacement for rehabilitation and I don’t know whether juvenile justice bill, 2014 can reduce the juvenile crime rates or not but from what the current scenario is we can’t and we shouldn’t just sit back and watch the developed juvenile delinquents who appropriately plan, execute, and commit a crime of which they can very well know the consequences and instead welcome the new law and hope for a better society!

 

Tushar Mahajan

3rd year at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat


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