Justice and the juvenile
Sep 6, 2013 12:07 AM | 55 comments

Calls to dilute the Juvenile Justice Act in light of what is perceived as lenient punishment to the juvenile offender in the Delhi gang rape case are understandable but misplaced. The crime shook the country’s conscience, brought forth an unprecedented outpouring of anger and triggered collective introspection on the safety of women and girls. But even though there is a view that the young perpetrator has been able to get away lightly, this is not reason enough to question or do away with the principles underlying juvenile justice. Separate legislation has existed in many countries around the world since the early 20th century for the care and protection of children, including child offenders. The present system in India was introduced by a 1986 Act and improved upon in 2000. The JJ Act, 2000, a progressive legislation, replaced the regular judicial process with a reformatory regime, favouring supervised probation or stay in an observation home over imprisonment. The law tries to reform a young offender’s conduct rather than confine him for decades in a prison with adult criminals, which only works to fan recidivist tendencies.

While refusing to allow the Delhi gang rape juvenile offender to be tried as an adult, the Supreme Court pointed out in its order that underage crime still forms only a tiny percentage of the large body of crime in the country. However, merely going through a differential process for juvenile offenders is not enough. It is obvious that the social contract underlying a lenient regime requires equal attention to be paid to the design and implementation of a proper rehabilitation process. Society will only countenance shielding young offenders guilty of great brutality from the rigours of adult justice if it is confident that they will indeed benefit from the rehabilitative approach to juvenile justice. In India, we need to guard against the complacent belief that a stint in a remand home is enough for their rehabilitation. The atmosphere in many such facilities is not conducive for reformation, and in fact may toughen or entrench criminal propensities. The system should not end up creating a new underclass that combines a sense of triumph over avoiding a prison term after committing heinous crimes, with the psychological effects of staying under bleak, hope-denying conditions. Making juvenile correctional facilities more humane is one part of the answer. But to address the need for proportionality — not so much in punishment as in the necessity of socio-psychological repair — when a young offender commits truly heinous crimes, a longer period of sustained counselling and rehabilitation ought to be an essential part of the juvenile justice process even after the maximum period of remand is over.

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Showing 10 latest comments
  • 'What if 16 year old terrorist attacked your nation.' Terrorists and Naxalites and Organised-pickpockets and Beggar-groups are already doing this. 'What remedy would a teenager have if from one side he is instigated to commit crime and from the other side punished for it' . Terrorists and naxalite target small boys because they have impressionable minds. In society similar associations may, and do, materialize due to circumstances. This case might not be very different; this guy left, or was forced to leave, home at 10.18 is an age decided by analysis and consensus of psychiatrists and law-makers.Which is better, hang the juvenile or make him a better person.It's time we woke up to the requirements of our underprivileged children.I'm sorry for that girl but it'd require years of hard work from each of us to prevent such incidents from happening again rather than hanging this unnamed person.
    From: Prashant Prem
    Posted: Sep 9, 2013 at 0:24 IST
  • It is ridiculous, The justice has bee denied to the victim and it will motivate young to perpetrate such heinous crimes. An exemplary punishment would at least change the mindset of young and save many citizens.
    From: Manoj
    Posted: Sep 8, 2013 at 15:34 IST
  • In accordance with the Constitution, no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment (article 23). Which means a child is allowed to work hand in hand with all. But when he does a crime he is considered as minor and as per federal crimes law children's actions are subject to juvenile custodian uptill he/she is an age of 18 yrs. What kind of law is this....a child can work like an adult, earn like an adult, thinks like an adult hence...as per that he is allowed to work at 14yrs of age....but at the the time of punishment he is no more adult....?
    From: Bashob Chakravartty
    Posted: Sep 8, 2013 at 13:00 IST
  • India, be prepared to witness an unprecedented increase in heinous crimes by the so called juveniles.The sentence by the court is not exemplary, actually it incites young to commit crimes.
    From: Emily Rose
    Posted: Sep 8, 2013 at 4:21 IST
  • it has been realised that after the damini gang rape case,it had become a tradition for the daily newspaper to have one section that contains regular news for gang rape case.THe govt. is a again helpless in this time of misery.
    From: Aditi Gakhar
    Posted: Sep 8, 2013 at 0:17 IST
  • The intentions behind the present juvenile justice system in India are undoubtedly very reformist and noble. The juvenile law in its present form looks very kind and humane in favour of the offender. However the lawmakers cannot remain oblivious of the anguish and apprehensions of legion members of society, many of whom in future are likely to be the unfortunate innocent potential victims of a variety of heinous crimes such as rape, gang-rape, murder, serious sexual assault and torture, etc. perpetrated by delinquent juveniles emboldened by our soft, slippery, acquiescent and accommodating juvenile justice paradigm that has every reason to fan recidivist tendencies. Keeping in view frequently reported incidents of mal-administration, mal-treatment & sexual exploitation of inmates in Child-Homes/ Juvenile-Homes in many parts of the country, and the fact that there is no authentic study in India statistically establishing actual reform of juvenile delinquents after their confinement in such Homes, the untried g
    From: D.K.Bhatt
    Posted: Sep 7, 2013 at 21:54 IST
  • Your editorial is objective and well balanced. As the cliche goes hard cases make bad law. We mustn't absolve ourselves of our social responsibility as community. Our socio-cultural attitudes towards women, our dowry system, our desire for a male child, our disregard within our families of the equality of man and women, etc. In addition, our corrupt system encourages poverty and illiteracy. These underlying social attitudes manifest as symptoms... in Delhi, Mumbai and all parts of India. Hanging an 18 year old is not going to solve the problem. We have to teach our children to treat our women with respect. We should practice what we teach. We should ensure that 11 year olds don't have to run away from their homes in search of a job and food. We must cultivate an attitude of respect for women in our own surroundings. Let us be objective and not be carried away by emotion. As long as we ignore these important aspect we cannot prevent incidents of rape in India.
    From: Chris Vimalraj
    Posted: Sep 7, 2013 at 15:27 IST
  • If an army of 16 year olds is raised and employed to disrupt the law and order in India by committing different crimes of serious nature in our localities, would you still consider all of them as juveniles and let them go after the rehab of 3 years? What would happen if terrorists are found juvenile? We need to define lines by the severity of the crime under consideration.
    From: Prasad
    Posted: Sep 7, 2013 at 11:48 IST
  • Either He is juvenile or not but the type of crime he had done deserved death sentence . We need numbers of modification in our laws regarding crime like rape & death .
    From: Sanjeev
    Posted: Sep 7, 2013 at 11:25 IST
  • Our government will get tired of rehabilitating if terrorist organisations like IM starts recruiting juveniles. We should refer to UNCRC which says that the presumption of “the age of criminal responsibility” be fixed while “bearing in mind the mental and intellectual maturity” of the offender.
    From: vishvendra joshi
    Posted: Sep 7, 2013 at 10:05 IST