The Rajya Sabha, in the wake of public pressure and agitation over the release of the juvenile convicted in the infamous Delhi gang rape case of 2012, on Tuesday passed a Bill that would lower the age of juveniles from 18 to 16 years to be punished as adults for heinous crimes including rape.
As per the Juvenile Justice Bill 2015, those aged 16 and above will be tried as adults, punishable with a minimum of seven years in prison for brutal crimes that include murder, acid attacks and kidnapping besides rape. The convicted will be brought before the Juvenile Justice Boards comprising psychologists, social scientists and experts who will assess the mental and physical capability of the juvenile and decide whether he or she is to be tried as an adult or not. The culprits would be sent to borstal instead of jail until they turned 21. The Lok Sabha had already passed the Bill on May 7, 2015 and the new law would come into effect after getting the assent of the President. The law was passed in the backdrop of a brutal gang rape of a 23-year old medical student, Jyoti Singh inside a moving bus in the capital by six men including a minor. The shocking incident triggered a nationwide outrage as well as at the international level that pressurized the government into passing harsher laws to punish the criminals. The culprits except the minor who was released on Sunday were sentenced to death. The release of the juvenile who turned 23 recently after 3 years in jail had led to widespread outcries including stirring up the sentiments of the victim’s parents.
The passage of new law however raises a few questions. Are the country’s laws to be formed under the pressure of public sentiments? Whenever new laws are mooted to tackle such crimes, wouldn’t it lead to anarchy? Even though the Lok Sabha had earlier passed the amendments in the 2000 Juvenile Justice Law, the Rajya Sabha approving it in haste is seemingly due to the uproar against the release of the juvenile culprit. That either the government who introduced the law as well as those who were involved in the discourses on the matter does not have any clear outlook or independent stance on the matter was evident from the discussions in the Rajya Sabha. The Juvenile Justice Law was passed after 4 hours of vigorous discussions involving the victim’s parents even without waiting for consultation with the experts about the ultimate goals of the law or forming an effective solution in the wake of increasing juvenile criminals. Some members opposing the law amendment might be because of the matter being approached sentimentally. The centre should have shown sincerity at least in leaving the matter that essentially requires the guidance and advice of the psychologists and social scientists, to the select committee. Given that the culprit could in no way be sent back to jail using the new law, the frenzy in amending it by reducing the victim’s parents to mere silent witnesses could not be justified. If a 14 year old committed rape, the question as to whether the age limit would be further cut down remains unanswered even by the Maneka Gandhi who introduced the Bill.
The ultimate goal of Juvenile Justice Bill is not to punish the young criminals but to pave way for their remorse, social upliftment and thereby rehabilitation. The rights of children are given equal importance as victim’s rights. Instead of getting anxious over the release of the juvenile culprit, it should be analysed whether our system has been successful in reforming the youngster. The circumstances that led the Supreme Court to inquire the reasons of failure in making the culprit feeling remorse should be thought provoking. The juvenile culprit was kept in the same cell as a Kashmiri terrorist and the revelations of the authorities that he might have turned into an extremist, proves that the matter is not being approached sensibly. The main aim of the Juvenile Justice Act is to uproot the culprits from the life circumstances that put them off beam and to rehabilitate them into a new healthy environment. It’s the responsibility of the government and when it fails to perform its duty, new amendments and laws lead to more chaos. Add to this the inefficiency of the Juvenile Justice Boards and the moaning of interrupted functioning of the boards by the appointment of persons with political motives. The discourses related to the matter should stem from the serious contemplations on how the circumstances that lead the youngsters into heinous crimes could be eliminated.