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Is Maneka Gandhi’s Call To Reform The Juvenile Justice Act Fair?

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By Urvashi Prasad:

A few days ago, three boys, aged 9, 12 and 14, reportedly raped and sodomised a 7-year-old girl. They took her to a park on the pretext of plucking mangoes and after committing the heinous act warned her not to tell anyone about what had happened. What shocked me when I read about this incident was not just the fact that these “children” had committed rape (which is evil enough), but also the manner in which they had developed a clever scheme to lure the little girl and subsequently threaten her. The latter is clearly indicative of their ability to be cognizant of the fact that what they were doing was wrong. Considering that we have been hearing of episodes like this since years, re-examining the Juvenile Justice Act is a long overdue and much needed step.

juvenileThe Women and Child Development Minister, Ms. Maneka Gandhi, recently suggested that the existing law which fixes a maximum punishment of 3 years in a correctional home for any individual below the age of 18 years, needs to be revised to 16 years. She supported her position by citing police statistics according to which 16-year-olds who are well aware of the provisions of the current law are involved with nearly 50% of all sexual crimes. Her statement was welcomed by many, including the family of the Delhi girl who bravely fought her most vicious assailants (including a 17-year-old juvenile) on the night of December 16, 2012. However, many human rights groups, child activists and NGOs have opposed the Minister’s viewpoint. The reasons they cite range from biological (incomplete development of the human brain by the age of 16 years) to socio-economic (young criminals often belong to poor households and are not well educated). Clearly this is a complex issue with strong arguments both for and against a possible reform. However, no matter which side of the fence one is on, a few critical issues need to be kept in mind.

Firstly, we must remember that the primary purpose of law is to ensure that there is justice for those who suffer at the hands of ruthless criminals. Reforming the criminal is an important (some would say utopian) thought, but as far as I am concerned, it is definitely a secondary consideration. Many activists argue that this issue needs to be looked at “dispassionately”. According to me when a little girl is raped in the most brutal fashion and is left to die or live with psychological and emotional scars forever, it is difficult to remain dispassionate. Perhaps those who feature regularly on television panels and make self-righteous comments about possibly every issue in the country can remain detached but for an ordinary human being who hears about these gut wrenching cases day in and day out, I certainly cannot. Law is incapable of reversing the damage that is done to a young girl who is raped but the very least it can do is to ensure justice for her and her family.

Secondly, reforming juveniles is a wonderful idea in theory but the reality is that our juvenile homes are ill equipped to do so. Not only are the facilities suboptimal, several juveniles escape from these homes and commit other, often more serious, crimes. In one incident, a juvenile raped a 23-year-old woman just two weeks after he had been put in remand for molestation. He also filmed the incident and blackmailed the woman and her friend by threatening to make the clip public. If reforming juveniles is to even come close to becoming a reality, the quality and capacity of these homes needs urgent and sustained attention.

Thirdly, it is important to recognise that juveniles are not a homogenous group. The crimes they commit are also far from homogenous. If most juveniles were committing thefts of food or bicycles, for instance, there would perhaps be no doubt in anyone’s mind that they need to be helped more than punished. Interestingly the original Juvenile Justice Act does not even refer to rape or murder. Possibly those who were writing the document never conceived that a juvenile could be capable of committing premeditated acts of violence. But we know very well that nothing could be farther from the reality. We cannot let juveniles who are a few months or days shy of turning 18 years (assuming that the birth records are accurate) get away with rape and murder. When a juvenile commits the most violent crime in the most cold-blooded manner possible, it definitely merits a serious punishment. It is also vital to note that a number of juveniles come up with deceptive schemes for luring unsuspecting victims. It takes a lot to rape or murder another human being and if someone is capable of doing that, there can be no excuse for letting him or her off the hook on the basis of age alone.

In fact, even police officers and managers of juvenile homes (whose voices are rarely heard) believe that it is critical to segregate juveniles on the basis of the nature of crimes they commit and whether or not they are repeat offenders. In the absence of this, a minority of juveniles who are well aware of the fact that they can get away even with murder so long as they are under 18 years, will continue to abuse the law.

After the Mumbai gang rape, an activist was quoted as saying that we need to be kinder as a society to children. I cannot disagree with that. But we also need to be fair and empathetic to sufferers and survivors of violent crimes. Of course children have human rights. But so do those who are raped and murdered. In fact, it is they whose rights to freedom, dignity and life are snatched away. We need to relook at the law urgently and ensure that it is fair not only to children but also to those who fall prey to crime. And ultimately we need to remember that laws are only as good as their implementation. In a country where the conviction rate is abysmally low and it takes years, often decades to get justice, simply reforming a law will never be enough. It is an important first step, however, and I hope that it will happen before the next incident of a violent crime by a juvenile, hits the headlines.

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  1. Prashant Kaushik

    Fabulous article. Well Done.

    Social scientists should stop this hypocrisy and think on practical grounds rather promoting their bookish philosophies. Steeling a piece of bread and raping a girl are all together different things. They can’t be brought under same category no matter how less the age of the criminal is.

  2. real picture

    I don’t understand why the blame is only put on a male , can’t a female initiate these things,in reality ,in childhood days girls are also curious to know these things ,i must say ,first time i heard a non-veg joke by a female in my childhood days and she was 3-4 years older than me ,later on she experimented with me , although i didn’t understand what was she doing nor i derived any pleasure when she put my hand on her chest, she was in puberty period but i was a kid. I am afraid , if her guardian got to know this in today’s environment i wd b behind the bars for no fault .All rape cases r false , rape has only one definition ie a complete intercourse forcefully without the consent of female ,other definitions like false promise of marriage and intoxication r only design to domesticate men .You people r killing us for no fault.

  3. Asha Gandhi

    JJ act needs to be reviewed. If 16 to 18 years juvenile comitted heinous crime he should be punished like an adult in Court of law. How can an NGO who are opposing this idea afford to put whole society at stake just to save those few offenders . Thay are lucky enough to enjoy the immunity for being just below 18years. Nobody ask these NGO what are there contribution in preventing these heinous crimes by the juveniles. These special children enjoy the attention they get from different agencies in the institutions , pampered and protected like precious properties by institution authorities just for the sake of protecting their job. This is the mockery that system ignore the interest of whole society and keep these children under care and protection. Just spending 3years in institution can not be the deterrent.
    Society has changed tremendously, our society is not receptive to the sudden onset of exposure of sex related issues. Education and family systems are collapsing. In absence of any deterrent in preventing crimes it is always the weak who suffers the most. It is the fake justification that brain of the children of the age group of 16 to 18 years are not fully developed to differentiate between right and wrong, if they comitted the adult like crime that means their brain are like any other adult. Society in this issue has to think collectively. Parents, especially mothers should teach their sons from the very beginning how to respect the dignity of girls and value the life of others. NGOs can do wonders in this long term strategy by taking group activities of parents as they have a maximum outreach programs, moral values must be incorporated in books from early stages. Our education system needs to be reformed. Any person between the age group of 16 to 18 if commited henious crime should be gives harsh punishment.

    1. real picture

      Madam ji , first of all u read rape n kidnapping laws thoroughly then make any comment , author n u both seem to be illiterate , shame on both author n u……. first read each n every law n analyse ,then show ur righting prowess , u shameless women!

    2. real picture



      The problem in society is unfortunately because of uncultured people like you. I don’t think it is worth anyone’s time to dignify your abusive comments by responding to what you say. And on the subject of being illiterate please correct your spelling – it is “writing”, not “righting”.

    4. real picture

      i m still saying u ,illiterate! cuz u did not read the correct spelling just below my comment , it was a key error ! not spelling error n it doesn’t matter either , the matter is, u should analyse a problem with more than one angle , u people r just thinking about urself , i am saying u illiterate cuz ur vision is myopic u r not aware of the repercussions of amending juvenile act .Children can b booked in false cases of rape, their life can be ruined ,at 17 year you r immature to give consent then how can a 16 year old can be treated as hardcore criminal , and at teen age mostly women make advances n if sec 375 is invoked a minor can be held rapist even if he does the act with consent .Each n every law favors women n women have misused the law which was made for their emancipation .I am still saying u illiterate cuz u haven’t studied law and our culture, Its your thought which reveals ur level of literacy ,not spelling!May god give u a little wisdom !

    5. urvashi prasad

      You can keep saying what you are like. I never said only women are raped. But unfortunately because of uncultured people like you its true that more women are raped in our country than men. I said anyone, man or woman, who is capable of a brutal crime needs to be punished appropriately. But i guess you aren’t educated enough to understand that. You can keep writing now but I dont think anyone should waste time responding to you.

    6. real picture

      if u were cultured u wont have said me uncultured n made one sided allegation without knowing me………n u didn’t answer my question .Do u know that most of the rape cases r result of a failed relationship .Du u know that these days people have started threatening to slap rape cases against their rivals .Du u know if a man misbehaves with us or a woman misbehaves with us we don’t say anything cuz we know ,whatever may be the matter they have only one brahmastra n they don’t need any evidence ,once they make allegation we wd be apprehended no body ll listen to us .However ugly a woman may be if she makes false allegation a man has to go behind the bars .For 1-2% delinquents we can’t jeopardize the whole population of kids who constitutes nearly 50% of our population. “vidya dadati vinayam vinayam dadati patrtam”.

  4. Bharat

    Very well written article, Urvashi. Balanced, thoughtful and insightful.
    P.S. i understand d fury, but try and ignore people like “real picture” (coz they arent worth your time).

    1. urvashi prasad

      Thanks a lot Bharat! I am glad you enjoyed reading it. More than fury I always try and reason with even unreasonable people but I agree that it is sometimes a futile exercise. Someone who cant debate and argue without using abusive language is definitely not worth anyone’s time. Thanks again!

  5. Nikhil Nair

    Dear ma’am
    One must not succumb to emotions while framing the law. As for your argument that criminal reform is a secondary concern for law, I don’t agree. What good will it do if these children are hanged. Also, the day justice becomes revenge is the day our legal system has failed. How is it that children aged even 9 conform to the idea of sex, let alone rape? It is important to find answers before making hasty decisions.
    Across the globe such experiments have failed miserably and such examples must be taken into consideration. Psychologist argue that a younger mind can be more receptive to reformation. So a hastlily taken decision can be more catastrophic.

  6. Bharat

    It is good initiative to make desired change in laws to avoid criminal’s escape from system. However, what is the mechanism in to prevent misuse of anti rape law. We have seen that stricter anti rape law has contributed to lakhs of innocents being framed falsely to settle personal scores. All I am worried about is this stricter law must not create more criminals in society at the hands of greedy women who misuse laws for frivolous reasons. Lawmakers must keep in mind that absolute power makes absolute corrupt.

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