Report : The Child As Victim & Perpetrator
Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi stirred a fierce debate with her latest remark about juvenile criminals saying that the ministry is working to bring about a change in the existing Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act. “According to the police, 50% of the crimes are committed by 16-year-olds who know the Juvenile Justice Act.” And she added that she is “Personally working on it to bring 16-year-olds into the purview.”
In India the trial of juvenile offenders is governed by the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act 2000. Section 1(4) mandates that all cases involving detention, prosecution, penalty and sentence of imprisonment involving juveniles shall be governed by the JJ Act. Section 2(l) defines a juvenile as any child who has not yet completed eighteen years of age. Section 15(1) (g) of the JJ Act further mandates that a juvenile convicted of any offence can be sentenced to a special home for a period of three years maximum, and thereafter be released on probation. This act came under attack after December 16 Delhi gangrape case trial in which one of the five accused was a juvenile. One of the criminals convicted for the rape, he escaped serious punishment (he was awarded a 3-year sentence) because he was less than six months short of his eighteenth birthday.
The data, released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) on July 14, 2014, has stated that there were a total of 2,074 reported rape cases committed by juveniles in 2013, as opposed to 1,316 cases in 2012. Of these, 2,054 rapes were committed by boys between 16 to 18 years old, up from the 1,305 rapes in 2012.
In this context, it is perhaps worth taking note that Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) recently appealed to its cadre to use the ‘juvenile’ card to escape Indian law. Mohammad Naveed aka Abu Hanzala, an arrested terrorist claimed to be 17 years old until his true age turned out to be 22 years. He then told interrogators that he had been instructed by his handlers to claim that he was a minor in case he was caught.
Maneka Gandhi called for treating minors accused of henious crimes such as murder and gang rape in par with adults’. Soon after the statement she finalised the changes to the draft juvenile justice which proposes that juveniles between 16 and 18 years who are accused of heinous crimes should be tried in a normal court. A day after her statement, Supreme Court also questioned the immunity enjoyed by the underage offenders guilty of heinous crimes.
Father of the Delhi gang rape victim appreciated and welcomed the decision of Maneka Gandhi. “Juveniles should be treated like adults if they indulge in any crime like rape or murder,” he said.
Kiran bedi, an Indian social activist and a retired Indian Police Service officer also supported a relook of Juvenile Justice Act where adult crimes done by juveniles should be tried and punished as adults.
But many child activists oppose this movement and called for focus on the needs of the children. They called for the need to care instead of punitive action. There is no denying that fact that the way Indian law treats juveniles accused of heinous crimes is increasingly coming under question. However, it also needs to be noted that Maneka Gandhi’s proposal should not be the final word in this debate. A FirstPost story cites NCRB data to show that the state of crimes committed by juveniles takes us into many grey areas.
The report goes on to show, on the basis of the NCRB data that the percentage of juveniles committing sexual assault crimes is no more than 2.4 per cent. The report quotes National Commission for Protection of Child Rights NCPCR chairperson Kushal Singh asking, “How can we say 50 percent of sexual crimes are committed by children when NCRB data says only 1 percent of total crimes are committed by children? Let us look at the data. Where does it support this?”
The back-and-forth between those demanding stricter punishments for Juvenile rapists and those calling for restraint will not end any time soon. What does need to be put in place soon is a mechanism to effectively deter sexual assaults and provide women the freedom to be.
(Bureau Report with inputs from Lakshya Arora, Intern)