Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 : Justice that rehabilitate juveniles
The popular outrage over the release of a juvenile convict in the December 2012 Delhi gang rape case after a three-year term in a Special Home has became a matter of debate, the outrage is understandable, but it is just plainly wrong to demand that his detention should continue.
It is a misplaced view that juveniles who fell only a few months short of adulthood in the eye of law and were convicted for heinous crimes such as murder and rape should be tried as adults. Nor is it legally tenable to argue that an ‘unreformed’ convict should not be released back into society on completion of the maximum permissible stint in a home for juveniles in conflict with law.
In fact, child-convicts growing into adulthood while being kept in a reformatory institution are ripe for rehabilitation. It will be a greater crime to force them to spend further time in special homes or put them in prison along with adult criminals.
It is futile now to seek to establish that the former juvenile released now was the most brutal among the group that committed the gang rape. To say this is not to lose one’s sympathy for the grieving parents of the young rape victim who subsequently died. None can afford to forget the crime that brought forth an unprecedented outpouring of anger and made the whole country introspect about the way it treats its women.
The Delhi High Court has taken the correct view by refusing to stay the convict’s release. It has taken note of the provisions for post-release rehabilitation, especially through an individual care plan for his reintegration with society. The Juvenile Justice Board should also receive quarterly follow-up reports for two years from the child welfare officer, probation officer or the NGO concerned.
Claims that the stay in the Special Home had had no effect on him and that he had been ‘radicalised’ during his confinement in the Special Home appear to be desperate arguments by an unconvinced society to stall his release.
Children fall foul of the law mainly because of neglect, abuse and poverty. There are no innate human propensities that magically transform cherubic children into unregenerate criminals beyond redemption. The whole object of juvenile law in India is to preserve the scope for rehabilitation and prevent recidivism.
Scope of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 :
The bill was adopted by the Lok Sabha this May and expected to be taken up by the Rajya Sabha in the current session of Parliament. The most contentious amendment to this Bill proposes that the minimum age for a child to be placed in the adult criminal justice system should be lowered from the current 18 years to 16 years for certain crimes.
This is supported by certain sections of society which have literally been baying for blood, post the horrifying Nirbhaya rape case. Ill-informed arguments have muddied the discourse to make the average citizen believe that juveniles committing crimes do not really face any punishment today, whereas the truth is that the juvenile justice system actually provides an alternative system for trial and punishment of juveniles in keeping with their age, physical and emotional status.
There is extensive research to prove that transferring children to the adult justice and prison system does not reduce crime, and in fact increases recidivism as it exposes these children to hardened criminals. Experts also believe that the human brain is not completely developed till one is in one’s mid-20s and young adults are actually more susceptible to peer pressure, and relatively unstable in emotionally charged situations.
Globally, most progressive countries and their judicial systems have taken cognisance of such research, a case in point being the state of Connecticut, in the U.S., which has recently seen a move to raise the age of juvenility. There is also extensive research to prove that more rehabilitative juvenile justice systems have repeatedly been found to lead to lower re-arrest rates than the adult system, and, therefore, result in lowering overall crime numbers.
While National Crime Records Bureau data indicates that children from the marginalised sections of society will suffer the most (as over 55 per cent children in the juvenile justice system come from families from the lowest income bracket) if these amendments pass, they could also end up impacting a number of young boys in consensual relationships, as they may face incarceration in the adult prison system if their partner’s parents decide to file a case against them under the proposed law.
It is strange that the very state which has not been able to ensure the effective implementation of the envisaged ecosystem for rehabilitating children through various institutions (child welfare and selection committees, juvenile justice boards, special juvenile police unit, etc.) established under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 (and therefore has in some way contributed to the rise in crime?) is now trying to “remedy” the situation by actually worsening it.
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