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Adulterated, but deterring as well?

The vicious cycle of crime and punishment refuses to end. The Union Cabinet’s decision to approve amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 is therefore a double-edged sword, which can cut through both ways. If the amendments go through in Parliament, adolescents aged 16 to just under 18 will be tried as adults in case of heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

The proponents of the amendments have cited the astronomically escalated rates of juveniles committing such crimes, particularly those involving extreme sexual brutality, for example the 16 December gang-rape case. While National Crime Records Bureau has put forward over 1,388 cases of rape by juveniles in 2013 alone, a marked increase over 2011 and 2012, what has really prompted this legislative intervention is the gruesomeness observed in the crimes thus committed. Rising instances of extreme sexual violence by minor boys have evidently pushed the Union Cabinet to approve the proposed amendments to JJ Act, and what the legislature hopes to achieve by doing this is sufficient deterrence and instilling a veritable fear of law to check such crimes. Because India happens to be a signatory to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Administration of Juvenile Justice since 25 November, 1985, corporal punishment has been discouraged so far and instead, the focus has been on rehabilitation and psychosocial reform, instead of advocating state-led punitive drive.

Yet, the ‘emotional temperature’ of a nation often forces upon the government or authorities to come to decisions that appear to be rather harsh. While the amendments to JJ Act will now go through the rigours of a parliamentary debate, what we need to keep in mind is what it is going to achieve in the short and the long run. Will it lead to the expected level of deterrence and bring down adolescent crime rates in the country? Or will it create further pressure on the juvenile justice board to give in to demands by a media-led lynch mob, a collective baying for the blood of its young? Will the amendments look at systemic inadequacies and structural deficiencies that propel youngsters towards a life of crime and atrocities? Will they alleviate poverty, illiteracy and rampant criminality from the social fringes that influence impressionable minds and push minor boys towards committing unthinkable sexual brutalities? Naturally, unless we bring in wider sociopolitical reconfiguration, merely trying juveniles as adults in cases of heinous crimes will fall humongously short of what the state would like to achieve both socially and penolegally.

Moreover, if we are reluctant to discuss sexualities and impart sexual education to our young, can they be really held liable for the crimes that they have not yet developed a comprehensive understanding of?            

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