Under a lot of public pressure, Indian parliament has passed a law that allows children aged 16 years may be tried in adult court for certain crimes. The decision has to be approved by juvenile justice board. This is a welcome move given the incidence of heinous crimes committed by juveniles are on the rise. Many are getting out after a serving a short three year stint in a remand home. Many a time hardened criminal syndicates are using juveniles to commit crimes on the belief that the juvenile will be out after serving a short span. We hear numerous cases of crimes committed by juveniles, the following are a few, by no means the only ones, that I have listed:
- Juvenile that participated in rape, disembowelment and eventual death of Nirbhaya was close to seventeen and half years at the time of crime. Yet, he got away serving three years. His criminal record will be expunged. His identity will not be revealed. Government has given him a one time grant and a sewing machine towards his rehabilitation. Some said the juvenile did not reform, although contrary opinion also exists.
- A fifteen year old boy kidnapped another child and demanded ransom to fulfil his dream to participate in a dance show. The kidnapped boy died. Kidnapper was sent to juvenile home. Juvenile came out on bail to write his class X board exam. He killed another lady. All this to fund a dream to become a dancer. The boy would likely be tried by newly enacted juvenile law.
- Two juvenile 17 year old boys had raped a two and a half year old girl after luring her. The boys belonged to the same neighborhood as the child.
- More recently, Dr. Pankaj Narang was beaten to death by a mob outside his home in Delhi. There were four to five boys in the mob that participated in lynching of Dr. Narang. I hope these boys will be tried as adults and not as juveniles.
It has been repeatedly argued that juveniles cannot be held responsible for their actions. Their brains are not developed enough to realize consequences of their action. In addition, juveniles coming from difficult background with traumatic childhood, must be given a second chance in life.
I find it difficult to understand how a seventeen and half year old not understand consequences of his action because he is a juvenile. The same person will become mature enough as soon as he reaches eighteen. Behavioural sciences that are quoted, in support of sparing juveniles from adult punishment, are extremely complex. Many humans can develop ability to fool behavioral tests. Beyond esoteric science, moot question remains should a person who commits a heinous crime, should be allowed to say that he was not responsible for what he did? Is this a joke? If one commits a crime he has to take responsibility for his action, irrespective of the fact if he understood the consequences of his action. If a juvenile puts his hand in fire, will his hand not be burnt because of his tender age?
Why not treat crimes based on heinousness without considering age of the criminal. For certain serious crimes like murder, rape etc all kids from thirteen to nineteen must be treated like adult. According to juvenile justice system in the United States, it is believed that “rehabilitative approaches are less effective than strict punishment. Ease of trying juveniles as adults became a defining feature of tough on crime policies in the 1990s.” In the England and Wales also, juvenile may be tried in adult court for offences like homicide, sexual assaults etc.
Finally, rehabilitation of juveniles is important. But what about rehabilitation of victims of juvenile criminals. Many of them have to go on for rest of their lives with the loss inflicted upon them. Victims family should have a right to closure of their trauma. Victims family should be the one who should have first right to pardon a juvenile victim.