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Law for minors help big culprits

The Delhi High Court’s notice to the central government about looking into the existing provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act assumes immense importance in light of reports that some juvenile criminals, especially the hardened ones, are taking advantage of their age to commit heinous crimes in full knowledge of the fact that the existing act provides no penal action that can be deemed as harsh or deterrent. Criminals up to the age of 18 are usually sent to a reformatory with the belief that they have committed the crime out of age-induced inexperience or influence of others (purportedly adults) and could still be reformed and brought back into the society. It is precisely this belief ingrained in the Act that some criminals are taking defiant advantage of. The immediate provocation for a relook into the provisions of the Act is the case of the youngest member, all of 17, who was part the gang of six which gang-raped the 23-year-old girl in a Delhi bus and was reportedly the most brutal of the lot. But his is only the latest in a series of cases of similar nature that have come to light, cases that have triggered a public outcry about the need to make the Juvenile Justice Act more responsive to the nature of crime than securing a blanket ban on harsh penal action due to the age of the convict.

The Delhi High Court’s notice on Wednesday came in response to a PIL that was filed in the court on Tuesday asking the court to take cognisance of the current provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. ‘Issue direction declaring the provisions of Section 16(1) (1st part without proviso), the proviso to subsection 2 of Section 16, ...of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, as ultra vires to the constitution..,’ the PIL said, referring to the provision in the current act that states that delinquents above 16 be kept away from other under-age convicts. By this logic, why can’t convicts above 16 they have separate laws attending to their crimes, the PIL asked, stating that often their crimes are of serious nature and highly developed. Movingly the PIL argues that under-age criminals involved in heinous crimes ‘do not need the care and protection of the society, rather the society needs care and protection against them’ the statement poignantly underlining the irony of the existing act which argues for care and protection to under-age convicts irrespective of their age and the nature of crime. The centre should take cognisance of the faultlines of the existing Act and act accordingly. Public outcry may not be a good starting point but criminal records could be. If the nature of crime is changing and if criminals are taking advantage of softer laws, then laws must be updated to reflect and redress the changing reality. There are enough experts working in this field. The centre must engage with them and the public to bring in changes in the Act, the implications of which could be far reaching.
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