Millennium Post

In vain

Late on Saturday night, the Delhi Commission for Women moved a plea against the release of the juvenile convicted in the horrific December 16 gang-rape and murder case, which the apex court agreed to hear on Monday. The court, however, refused to stay his release from a reform home, scheduled for Sunday. On Friday, the Delhi High Court had rejected a plea to extend the juvenile convict’s three-year stay in a reform home. Political parties across the board have urged the judiciary to extend the juvenile convict’s stay in the observation home. In its appeal, the DCW said that the High Court had erred in not staying the release of the juvenile, who had reportedly been “radicalised” in the reform home and would be a threat to society on release. The victim’s parents were also naturally anguished and shocked at the court’s decision. In response, the victim’s parents on Saturday had staged a protest in front of the reform home before being whisked away by the Delhi police. However, there is little the court could have done. Under the existing Juvenile Justice Act, a minor cannot be sent to jail and the maximum punishment for a delinquent can be three years’ detention in a correctional home. Demands for minors involved in brutal crimes to be tried and punished as adults were raised after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident. One of the six convicted in the case was the juvenile, who was a few months short of 18 years of age at the time of the incident. As per the High Court order, however, the state and Juvenile Justice Board have been asked to chart out a plan for the convict’s “rehabilitation and social mainstreaming”. It is imperative to understand that the juvenile justice system is not set up like the criminal justice system. The emphasis in the JJ system is on reform and rehabilitation and less on punitive action. Despite such a stated aim, the Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had earlier this year tabled a comprehensive bill that seeks to lower the juvenile age from 18 to 16 for “heinous” offenses. Once passed through the Parliament, the proposed law will make it possible for law enforcement agencies to try children between 16 and 18 years under the Indian Penal Code. If they are found guilty of serious crimes, they will lodge them in regular prisons instead of juvenile reform homes. Suffice to say, due to the successive logjams in the Rajya Sabha, there has been no serious discussion on the matter. Without a requisite change in the law, there is nothing much the courts can do to alter the course of justice. However, another point of contention in the amended bill is the very broad definition of a “heinous” offense committed by those between 16 to 18 years of age.
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