A juvenile offender again; why are the laws not changing?

Written by: Vicky Nanjappa
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Bengaluru, Dec 26: Very often one wonders why there is so much stubbornness in amending the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children Act) which states that an offence committed by a person below 18 is an act of innocence.

While in the Nirbhaya case we saw how a juvenile offender got away with that horrific crime, this issue has once again cropped up in the Delhi acid attack case.

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It has been found now that Dr Ashok Yadav got in touch with two juveniles, paid them Rs 25000 to take part in this crime and pass it off as a robbery.

High time it is amended:

Ask any police officer or lawyer and he would say that it is time that the act is amended. An 18 year old of today is no longer innocent. He has access to so much information that his mind is far more mature and is capable of scheming and even committing a heinous crime.

Leave alone death sentence, a juvenile goes through reformation and not punishment.

The act clearly states that an offence committed by a person below the age of 18 needs to be considered as an act of innocence.

The age was enhanced:

In the year 2006 there was an amendment to the JJ act in which the age of a juvenile was enhanced from 16 to 18. While enhancing the age it was said that this was being done to take a more reformative approach and the intent was to make responsible citizens.

Thanks to this amendment the age was increased and the law makers even argued that this was the right step that was taken. There is a good chance at reforming the youth and this law needed to be amended.

Change of mentality:

The underworld was quick to take this as an opportunity. They began hiring youth below the age of 18 to carry out shootings. This was reported by several officers and then often complained that such boys got away with major punishments.

It has been noticed that the amendment to this act has not acted as a deterrent. Instead it has helped many criminals who use this loop hole to get away with crime. Moreover there is no differentiation in the nature of offences. Some crimes are a mistake such as robbery. However when it comes to rape or murder there cannot be any such excuse.

Former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Santhosh Hegde tells oneindia that it is time that the law is amended. The mental maturity of a 18 year old is very different today. Acts such as rape and murder cannot come under the purview of offences committed due to innocence. The ideal age for a juvenile today ought to be 15, he also says.

At a tender age:

Advocates and law makers argue that the intent of amending the act in the first place was not wrong. It was amended to accord an opportunity at reforming. A juvenile is considered to be at a very tender age and there is a chance of reform.

The lawmakers felt that through counseling they could ensure that the offence is not repeated and the offender could be given a chance to lead a normal life.

The act explained:

The Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection Of Children) Amendment Act, 2006 7A, states that whenever there is a claim of juvenility raised before any court or a court is of the opinion that an accused person was a juvenile on the date of commission of the offence, the court shall make an inquiry, take such evidence as may be necessary (but not an affidavit) so as to determine the age of such person, and shall record a finding whether the person is a juvenile or a child or not, stating his age as nearly as may be.

A claim of juvenility may be raised before any court and it shall be recognised at any stage, even after final disposal of the case, and such claim shall be determined in terms of the provisions contained in this Act.

Defining a juvenile

A juvenile is a person who has not completed 18 years of age. A boy or girl under eighteen years is a 'juvenile' according to the Juvenile Justice Act 2000.

Earlier, according to the 1986 Act, the age of boys and girls were different, but the Act in 2000 repealed the act of1986 and it brought the age of male juveniles on par with the female juveniles.

This was done keeping in mind the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child. This defined that any person below 18 shall be termed as a child as per the law.

According to the act today, a juvenile would be exempted from prosecution and punishment. The IPC states that any crime committed by a person below the age of 12 is not a crime. However for acts committed by persons between the age of 12 and 18, there is no such immunity. But if they are found to be guilty, they cannot be treated or sentenced in the same manner as adults.

Juveniles are now dealt by the Juvenile Justice Board and they are also provided with free legal aid.

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