The Supreme Court Wednesday upheld the Juvenile Justice Act providing for a special reformist approach towards a minor irrespective of the nature of crime committed by him or her, saying that the law aimed to save children in conflict with law from becoming hardened criminals.
“The essence of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, and the rules framed thereunder in 2007, is restorative and not retributive, providing for rehabilitation and re-integration of children in conflict with law into the mainstream of society,” said an apex court bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice S.S. Nijjar.
Chief Justice Kabir said: “There are, of course, exceptions where a child in the age group of 16-18 may have developed criminal propensities, which would make it virtually impossible for him/her to be re-integrated into mainstream society, but such examples are not of such proportions as to warrant any change in thinking…”
“…It is probably better to try and re-integrate children with criminal propensities into mainstream society, rather than to allow them to develop into hardened criminals, which does not augur well for the future,” the court said.
The age of 18 has been fixed on account of the understanding of experts in child psychology and behavioural patterns that till such an age the children in conflict with law could still be redeemed and restored to mainstream society, the court said.
The court said this while declining petitions seeking the loweing of the age in the act from 18 to 16 years for juveniles and demanding that those involved in heinous crimes should not be treated differently from other offenders.
The petitioners, including author Salil Bali, lawyers and other individuals, had sought that the punishment for heinous crimes committed by a minor should not be decided by the Juvenile Justice Board.
The petition was filed in the context of a minor who was among those who were arrested for the gangrape, brutal assault and torture of a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in Delhi Dec 16 last year. She later died in a Singapore hospital Dec 29.
Addressing the general perception that a juvenile was free to go, even if he had committed a heinous crime, when he ceases to be a juvenile, the court referred to the amendment to the law saying “that even if a juvenile attains the age of 18 years within a period of one year he would still have to undergo a sentence of three years, which could spill beyond the period of one year when he attained majority”.
The court said that there was yet another consideration which appears to have weighed with the worldwide community, including India, to retain 18 as the upper limit to which persons could be treated as children that was to “provide for the 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”.