ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Juvenile Public Rage

The law should not be changed to pander to mediatised public panics.

The public rage following the 16 December 2012 gang rape in Delhi, where a juvenile was among the five accused, has led to demands that minors 16 years and above, ­accused of serious crimes, should be tried as adults. This found strong resonance in the media and many political parties. While the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had tilted ­towards such public opinion, the present Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, has incorporated this demand in the final draft of the bill to amend the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. While there are some other welcome proposals in the draft bill, the one to empower the Juvenile Justice Board to decide on whether juveniles involved in serious crimes should be sent to an observation home or tried in a regular court smacks more of retribution than reformation or rehabilitation.

This proposal pertains to children between 16 and 18 years accused of crimes under Indian Penal Code Sections 302 (murder), 326A (acid attack), 376 (rape and sexual assault), 376A (rape resulting in death or vegetative state) and 376D (intercourse by management or staff of an institution). The minister cited the police as saying that half of the crimes are committed by 16-year-olds who know the Juvenile Justice Act, thereby implying that these accused are aware that they will get off lightly. Just how the police have arrived at this figure and which category of crimes is referred to is not clear.

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