It is time for a nation to review its laws when a youth walks free after approximately six months, or less of brutally raping and physically abusing a girl simply because he is under 18 – the legal age for being eligible for punishment. The Juvenile Justice Board on Monday declared the sixth accused in the gang rape of the 23-year-old paramedical student a ‘minor’, enabling him to walk free by 4 June when he turns 18. While the Juvenile Justice Act mandates that a minor aged between 16-18 years can be sentenced to a special home for three years if convicted, it also mentions that he can be kept at the special home till he attains the age of 18 and he cannot be sent to jail thereafter. Which basically translates into the fact that the accused in this case, who is 17 years, six months and 25 days old (as on Tuesday), will walk free on 4 June.
The Juvenile Justice Board’s decision has given rise to bitterness and understandably so. How can a criminal be let off only on the basis of being a few months short of the eligible age for punishment. Also in this case the Board rejected the police’s plea for bone ossification test for the accused to check his age and depended on document which might or might not have been right, for guidance. What kind of precedence does it set for the nation? While the Juvenile Justice Act was created with the belief that children need correction for lapses rather than punishment, the current case is not one of petty stealing or involvement in street fighting, which can be corrected by a few months spent at a special home. The violence with which the youth is believed to have attacked his victim shows a deep moral decay and perversion which will only rejoice at being so easily let off. Who knows how many more will fall prey to his perversion if he is left free. Also it will set a bad example for others below the age of 18, who may feel encouraged to indulge in crimes knowing that the law of the land will protect them from any severe punishment. Adults with criminal intent may also use them to execute their plans, with the assurance that even if caught, they will be easily let off. Laws need to change with social changes or else they cease to serve their purpose. Times were much more innocent when the present Juvenile Justice Act was drawn. But with the increasing number of crimes it needs a review. And the accused in this case needs at least a full life term to ensure that others think twice before committing such a heinous crime.