By Akhil Kumar:
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 was introduced as an improvement over the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986 to help in the protection, care and rehabilitation of children under the purview of the juvenile justice system in India. The Act has set the age of 18 to determine juveniles; anyone under that age cannot be tried in a regular court no matter how serious the nature of the crime. Under the section 16 of the act, a juvenile can be sentenced to a maximum of 3 years imprisonment; but the moment he turns 18, he cannot be kept with other juveniles and neither can he be sent to an adult prison and thus can walk free. The recent judgment of the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) declaring the sixth accused in the Delhi gang rape case as a juvenile has triggered widespread debate about the effectiveness of such laws.
If we talk about this particular case, the accused was 17-and-a-half years old at the time of the incidence which makes him a juvenile in the eyes of the law. He will turn 18 on June 4th, 2013 and hence released from protective custody. What is imperative to think is what enlightenment would he acquire in 5 months of custody? Will he not be a danger to a society any further? Will he experience a spiritual awakening or go laughing all the way home? Is this the kind of justice women are fighting for?
While I completely understand that there will always be some difficulties in cases involving a clear demarcation of age for childhood and adulthood, the law has to be fair to the victims also. This will further hamper the credibility of the rule of law in times when we are fighting for justice for women, should women fear juveniles now? The accused was allegedly the main culprit who brutally assaulted the couple after raping the girl, there is serious need for his psychological rehabilitation and I doubt that five months will be enough. I hear people taking potshots at the judiciary and mocking the whole judicial system after this development, their helplessness and insecurity has found voice in sarcasm directed at the administration. Though I strongly condemn the logic of “satisfying the collective conscience of the society” but what use are all the laws if people lose faith in the judiciary altogether? Some logical amendments have to be made in the act after active consultation from the people representing all sections of our society.
The laws are made to provide justice and for the welfare of the society, it would be tragic if the same is twisted and used as an escape instead. I do not suggest that we lower the age bar for juveniles, neither do I demand harsher punishment in “exceptional” cases; all I want is that the juvenile delinquents should at least serve their full sentence. I have been getting this scary idea since morning that what if a group of sociopath juveniles decide to celebrate their entry into adulthood by going on a rampage of gang rapes and murders days before they turn 18? Do we have an effective law in place to deter such acts? I suggest that we should have separate adult correctional homes for such cases where the juvenile turns into an adult before completion of his sentence. Proper counseling from skilled psychiatrists and follow up services should be made available in such correctional homes and the inmates released only if the psychiatrists are convinced that they have realized the consequences of their crime and are prepared to lead life as responsible citizen.
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