New Delhi: Days after government cleared a proposal to lower to 16 years the age to try juveniles as adults in heinous crimes, the move has received kudos from some quarters but child rights activists and others are of the view that it is an undesirable and a poorly conceived idea.
Those who support the idea do so with a caution that it will succeed if several safeguards, including juveniles' rehabilitation by providing them proper education, food and shelter, are taken care of.
However, C Raj Kumar, vice chancellor of O P Jindal Global University in Haryana, and child rights activist and lawyer Ananth Kumar Asthana took a diametrically opposite view saying tough provisions for juveniles in conflict with law have already failed in several countries and the real problem is not being addressed.
“Tough law (for juveniles) has already failed in several countries and is being amended,” Asthana said.
His view was echoed by Raj Kumar, also a rights activist, who said, “By not addressing the real problem in the society and only by lowering the age, we are shifting blame on the children.”
Differing with them were noted senior criminal lawyer K T S Tulsi and another senior counsel H S Phoolka who said with change in law, juveniles in conflict with law will come to know that they cannot be let off easily.
“Criminal gangs take the advantage of this age criteria and it is the child who gets exploited by these gangs. Since the inception of this law, involvement of the children in crime has increased by around 300 per cent,” Tulsi said.
The caution in welcoming the new proposal was vivid when Phoolka said government should take care that juveniles in the age group of 16 to 18 years involved in heinous crimes like rape and murder should be kept away from the death penalty.
“The blanket implementation of IPC for the heinous crimes will not be a welcome idea. There needs to be certain safeguards, like no death penalty will be awarded to such children. But above all, JJB Act first needs to be implemented properly,” he said. Centre for Social Research Director Ranjana Kumari said that nature of the crime and not the age should be considered while trying anyone for any offence. However, she said that the child rights needs to be ensured by having some safeguards.
Asthana said that deterrent does not work in the cases of juveniles involved in crimes and instead they should be counselled and rehabilitated properly.
According to Raj Kumar, “The change in lowering the age is not desirable. We cannot solve the problems simply by undermining other aspects in the society.”
Asthana, who said the proposal is poorly conceived and poorly drafted, was of the view that “serious crimes can be committed by the children of less than 16 years of age as well. On what basis are you creating classes?
“The very principles of the juvenile act have been compromised,” he added by elaborating that there are already enough provisions for the rehabilitation of juveniles in the existing law.
“What is needed is the proper implementation of what we already have,” he said.
After the amendment in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, juveniles in the age group of 16-18 can be tried as adults under Indian Penal Code (IPC) if they are accused of heinous crimes like rape, murder, dacoity and acid attacks.
According to the amendment, the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) will decide whether cases where a juvenile is involved in a heinous crime would be tried under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act or normal trial court.