SC's suggestion is apt; Juvenile Justice Act needs a re-look

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The number of rapes committed by juveniles in 2013 was 2,074.
The dark memories of December 16, 2012 still haunts the nation. It was this day when a young girl was gangraped and brutally killed. Out of the five arrested and convicted for the gruesome attack, one of them, whom the investigation reports suggested to be most brutal among all, escaped death sentence because he was found to be underage. This created a huge uproar as the most dangerous offender got away with a minor sentence. The development triggered a nationwide debate and questions were raised whether the justice juvenile Act needs to be amended.

Ever since she assumed office, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has talked the need of an amendment in existing Juvenile Justice Act. On Saturday too, she reiterated her stand of treating the underage accused of heinous crimes on par with the adults.

The Supreme Court has also pressed for a more stringent Juvenile Justice Act. Questioning the blanket immunity enjoyed by underage offenders guilty of serious crimes such as rape and murder, a apex court bench said, "You can't have a cut-off date for crime" like you have for government jobs, the court said. "Go by how the neurons are growing."

What is Justice Juvenile Act?

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 is a legal framework for juvenile justice in the country. The Act provides for a special approach towards the prevention and treatment of underage offenders. It provides a framework for the protection, treatment and rehabilitation of children. The law brought in compliance of Child Rights Convention 1989, repealing the earlier Juvenile Justice Act of 1986. This Act has been further amended in year 2006 and 2010.

Is Juvenile Act really needs a re-look?

Studies shows that a large number of crimes are planned by gangsters but implemented by minors since the law gave them an escape route from harsh punishments. Among other reasons, higher number of cases of child abuse in correction centres, poor conditions of welfare facilities, delays leading to a high pendency of cases, and provisions related to juveniles in conflict with law.

Proposals for amending Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 has been under consideration for many years. A draft of proposed Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014, has already been placed by the Ministry.

Involvement of juveniles in serious crime has risen by 65% in last one decade

This Amendment will mark the Third Amendment to the JJ Act. The present Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 fails to express the minimum age, lacks concept of parental responsibility. It also fails to provide for procedural guarantees like right to counsel and right to speedy trial. The Act does not take into account the orders and directions of the Supreme Court and High Courts relating to determination of the age of the child. It empowers the Juvenile Justice Board to give a child in adoption.

Another problem with the Act is that it is not taken seriously. Several States have not even constituted adequate number of juvenile courts or juvenile welfare boards. Therefore, there is an urgent need to introduce the concept of guardian or child's legal counsel or a social worker involved throughout the court proceedings in which children are involved. For successful compliance of Court orders, and to punish violators, monitoring bodies need to be set up, who should be given legal powers as well. One area where further action is required is that of providing a support person for children during the investigative process, courtroom appearance and after the trial is over, has much to commend itself, and would enable the child to have a single support person to help his/her navigate the entire process.

What data say?

Government data show involvement of juveniles- aged between 16 and 18 - in serious crime has risen by 65% in the last one decade.

According to NCRB data, there has been 60% increase in rapes committed by juveniles in 2013 as compared to 2012. The number of rapes committed by juveniles in 2013 was 2,074, compared to 1,316 in the previous year. The number of rapes committed by children between the ages of 16 and 18 alone in 2013 is 1,388, higher than the total number of rapes by juveniles in the previous year.

The rate of the heinous crime by adults and minors has increased by 35%. The total number of rapes recorded in 2013 was 33,706, compared to 2012's 24,923.

Sensing the gravity of the issue, the Modi Government is mulling to make changes in the existing Juvenile Act. Undoubtedly, this is a appreciative move in right direction. But, merely bringing changes will not help. The Government must guarantee its enforcement and proper implementation if it really wants to address the situation.

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