Last week, the Lok Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2014, which will allow children between 16 and 18 years of age to be tried as adults if they commit heinous crimes. The bill will now be debated in Rajya Sabha, where the government, despite lacking a majority in that House, will be hoping for its passage. Overruling the recommendations of a parliamentary panel, the government went ahead with the bill. The Centre has changed what it perceived to be a hole in our criminal justice system, where juveniles between 16 and 18, accused of heinous crimes, get away with minimal punishment. The clamour for such demands reached its crescendo in the aftermath of the infamous gang-rape incident in the national capital in 2012. One of the main perpetrators of the crime, who was accused of brutalising the victim with an iron rod, was under the age of 18 when he committed the crime. Unlike his cohorts, who were sentenced to death, a Delhi court could only give him the maximum of three years in a reform facility. This decision naturally outraged many. According to National Crime Records Bureau statistics, the number of juveniles accused of violent crimes against women rose from 484 in 2002 to 1149 in 2011. This figure, however, is slightly misleading.
The parliamentary standing committee, which looked into the government’s proposal, found that the rate of juvenile crime in India was very low at 1.2 percent. “It is evident that juvenile crime is a minuscule proportion of total crime committed and that the same is not significantly increasing. Such small numbers can most easily be dealt with under the Juvenile Justice System with appropriate infrastructure and human resources,” the committee said. In addition, the NCRB data shows that instances of juvenile rape have formed less than 6 percent of all registered cases of rape and not 50, as Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi had said. One of the other contentions was the age limit of 16. In the event that the perpetrator is just below 16 years of age, will he/she be tried under the adult criminal justice system?
The key to deterrence, many experts suggest, is the likelihood of detection, arrest and conviction for a crime. To put this statement into context, the conviction rate for rape in India was only 27 percent in 2013. The fact that our juvenile justice system has horribly failed to achieve its mandate, which is to rehabilitate young offenders, has not helped matters. Of course, any deterrence to criminal activity is most welcome and the government seeks to achieve it. However, the only possible solution to prevent rising crime committed by young adolescents or not, is better investigations, prosecutions and care for victims’ families.