With the release of the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya Case and the Juvenile Justice Bill 2015 being stalled in the Rajya Sabha, the debate on whether juveniles between 16-18 years of age shall be treated as adults in case of heinous offences has never been as fierce as it is now.
The 2015 bill would replace the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 and it seeks to permit juveniles between the ages of 16 – 18 to be tried as adults for heinous offences, resembling the infamous December 16 incident in New Delhi which shocked the entire nation. Although, the new bill is a massively populist move which panders to feminists and women’s rights activists in general, but it also aims to provide a legislative solution to an increasing epidemic in India, that of heinous crimes committed by juveniles. In the last decade alone, rapes and murders committed by juveniles have more than quadrupled and a comprehensive mechanism is urgently needed to deal with such situations which attempts to grant appropriate punishment to the convict but at the same time, upholds the sensitivity that is required while dealing with juveniles.
The current Act, last amended in 2000, does not allow juveniles to be tries as adults in case of heinous offences and is essentially considered the reason why the Nirbhaya convict was released by the criminal authorities. The above provision would be replaced under the new Act, which would also require Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB) and Child Welfare Committees (CWC) to be constituted in each district. The JJB would conduct a preliminary enquiry whether the juvenile offender is to be sent to rehabilitation or be tried as an adult. At the same time, CWC’s would determine institutional care for children in need of protection.
In my opinion, it is high time that we start holding juveniles accountable for their actions. It is a disgrace that someone convicted for a crime as horrendous as the Nirbhaya incident can walk out of jail simply because he was a minor when the crime was committed. The critics of the bill say that lowering the juvenile age would not act as a deterrent for crimes for juveniles committing heinous crimes. While they may be right in contending that, they must be told that no person shall be eligible to get a free pass from jail merely because of their age. Moreover, the JJB and CWC would ensure that the convicted juvenile gets as much counselling as possible which may ultimately help him in mending his ways. At the same time, it is desirable that the Women and Child Development Industry ties up with local NGO’s to conduct regular workshops in ghettos and other backward areas around the country to sensitize young men about women security; the same may help in building a mechanism that brings down the crimes committed by juveniles.
That being said, I think the Juvenile Justice Bill 2015 is an important piece of legislation which would, if nothing else, keep the accused where they are meant to be, that is in jail. After the release of the Nirbhaya Convict and the winter session of the upper house coming to a close, there is an urgency being displayed by legislators and activists alike with respect to the passage of the bill in parliament and one can only hope that sanity would prevail.