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Whether Minors Committing Heinous Crimes Should Be Treated As Juvenile?

The age of maturity recognised by law is 18 years of age[1]. However, the new generation is getting mature at a very early age due to the changes in society which brings us to a very valuable question. Are they mature enough to deal with the consequences?

One of the major assets of India is the power of youth as 41% of the Indian population is below the age group of 18 years.[2] Unfortunately, National Crime Records Bureau reveals that around 28,977 males and females below the age of 18 were involved in cognizable crimes, with 887 involved in rape case during 2009.[3]Whereas, in 1998 only 9352 males and females below the age of 18 were involved in cognizable crimes.[4] This data clearly proves that the rate of crime has nearly tripled in minors.

Some of the major cases where minors were a part of crime Nirbhaya case are one of them, where a co-accused was minor. This case highlighted the flaws in the juvenile system and also highlighted the fact that not only age should be taken into consideration while providing justice.

The below figure clearly shows that minors' involvement in crime is increasing. State should be highly concerned about rapid increase in the cases especially in sexual offences. It clearly shows the collapse of the juvenile justice system. Taking note of the collapse of the Juvenile Justice (Care and protection of children) Act, 2000 to control juvenile delinquency legislation has passed Juvenile Justice (Care and protection of children) Act, 2015 with certain amendments.

The 2015 act was passed to treat males and females of sixteen to eighteen years of age to be treated as adults for heinous crimes. Graph shown below shows after the amendment a slight decrease in the number of cases of Juvenile delinquency in the offence related to rape between 2015 - 2016.

Under Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 when a child commits a heinous offence, a board has to conduct preliminary assessment of the mental and physical health of the child who has completed or is above sixteen years of age.[5] To evaluate his or her ability to understand the circumstances in which he committed the offence and the consequences thereof. If the board is satisfied in the enquiry then it can proceed to trial in accordance with Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

But if the board is of the view that a child has committed a petty offence or serious offence irrespective of his or her age, or a child whose age is below sixteen years has committed heinous crime then there is a need of supervision so, taking into consideration the past behaviour and social report of the child the board can allow him to go home, perform community service, participate in group counselling or even leave him on probation.[6]

Evaluating Section 18 of Juvenile Justice act, 2015

This section has been widely criticized on the basis of violation to right to equality.[7] However, Children who are below the age of 18 years have their minds in the state of development so the crime committed by them differs on the level of maturity attained by them.

In Roper v. Simmons, the Supreme Court was of the view that Juveniles should be categorised among themselves based upon the maturity level, intelligence, moral responsibility and life experience. Background history places a vital role in shaping the personality of a young age group in childhood. The focus of this act is to protect the right to life of children including right to justice.

International View
Havana Rule, Beijing Rules and United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child states that to any person who is below 18 years of age should not be awarded death penalty and life imprisonment. Thus, the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 clause 21 of section 2 prohibits death penalty and life imprisonment to any juvenile. By this provision it is quite clear that no Juvenile can be treated as an adult irrespective of the gravity of crime. Even the USA, UK and Canada have laws to prosecute minors for heinous crimes committed by them.

Critical Analyses
Supreme Court in Gaurav Kumar v. State of Haryana[8], was of the view that Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 failed to fulfil its objective as it provided a blanket protection to the juvenile irrespective of the crime committed by them. The new Juvenile Justice act of 2015 has specifically categorised petty and heinous offences moreover it has also classified children below 18 years of age into two categories which has plausibly justified the objective of this act.

Measures to be taken to improve Juvenile Justice System

  • Sense of security:
    According to AIIMs professor, depression and anxiety in youth is increasing at an alarming rate. It is very important for parents to help their kids deal with psychological issues especially in teenagers a lot of teenagers face hormonal changes and struggle. Parents should give a sense of security to them.
     
  • Sense of morals and social values:
    Schools and parents should teach students morals education which will hold them back from committing any crime.
     
  • Opportunity to earn:
    Skilled based education should be given so that in times of any financial crisis students can earn for their bread and butter.
     
  • Parents Counselling:
    Foundation of good parenthood is the most essential part to prevent juvenile delinquency.
     
  • Counselling of children:
    Due to unhealthy competition and peer pressure it is very important to assess the psychological health of children. Parents should from time to time take their ward to students counselling.

Conclusion
Legislation should see the gravity of offence rather than the age of the person because a person, who knows the nature of crime he or she is committing, is also well aware of the consequences. Therefore, any minor who has attained or is above sixteen years of age committing any heinous crime should be treated as juvenile until all facts and circumstances are taken into consideration. Under Section 15 of Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 when the board is satisfied that trial should proceed ahead in accordance with Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 then only he or she should be treated as an adult. Even then clause (21) of Section 2 prohibits death penalty and life imprisonment for juveniles.

End-Notes:
  1. The Majority Act, 1875 (Act no. 9 of 1875).
  2. Age structure and marital status by census of India, Census India, Available at, https://censusindia.gov.in/census_and_you/age_structure_and_marital_status.aspx#:~:text=India%20has%20one%20of%20the,than%2018%20years%20of%20age, last accessed on 25/06/2020.
  3. Crime in India, NCRB report of 2009, Available at, https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/crime_in_india_table_additional_table_chapter_reports/Table%2010.8_2009.pdf , last accessed on 25/06/2020.
  4. Crime in India, NCRB report of 2008, Available at, https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/crime_in_india_table_additional_table_chapter_reports/Table%2010.2_2008.pdf , last accessed on 26/06/2020.
  5. Section 15 of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
  6. Section 18 of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
  7. Right to equality under Article 14 of Indian Constitution.
  8. (2015) 16 SCC 310.

    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Abhinav Rana
    Awarded certificate of Excellence
    Authentication No: AP33714274057-18-0421

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