The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 was very lenient when it came to holding a
child offender accountable for his/her actions. The Nirbhaya Rape Case of 2012
became the reason for the Parliament of India to enact the Juvenile Justice Act,
2015 in a rush as a response to growing public tensions and scrutiny.
This Act, however, is not lenient at all but rather deterrent in nature. Section
15 of the Act states that any child between the age of 16-18 can be transferred
to a criminal court in case of commission of a heinous offence, the definition
of which is provided in Section 2(33) of the same Act.
This article focuses on the psychological aspect of dealing with juvenile
delinquents and how the aforementioned provision of Section 15 obstructs the
growth of such delinquents by trying them in an adult court. It also highlights
the Constitutional provision that is being violated by the said section as well
as tries to analyze the impact of prison culture on children. The paper
concludes by providing solutions to overcome these difficulties.
The preamble of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 (hereinafter JJA) states that its
objective is to serve in the best interest of children to safeguard their basic
rights and needs by catering to their physical, emotional and intellectual
The Juvenile system in its entirety is based on the belief that deviance among
children is caused due to the failure of the society in providing a nourishing
environment that enriches the children with care and protection, thus
emphasizing that the approach towards the correction of juvenile deviance should
be socially acceptable and child friendly. However, Section 15 of the Act has
been criticised as being detrimental to the said objective which made it a
subject of controversy and has come under scrutiny.
Treating a child like an adult is in no way child friendly' and this
provision completely discredits the statement made in its preamble. This paper
aims at answering the pertaining question of whether juveniles should be treated
as adults by discussing the ways in which the above-mentioned section impairs
the possibility of growth among juveniles by subjecting them to adult trial
Impulsive Decision-Making Tendencies Among Adolescents
Section 15 of the JJA provides that a child between the age of 16-18 can be
tried as an adult if he/she has committed a heinous offence. This provision has
drawn a line to classify juvenile delinquents in two categories: one is below
the age of 16 and the other is above this age.
However, according to various neuroimaging studies, it is a cogent belief that
adolescents have a greater affinity than adults towards emotions, thus implying
that it is plausible for their decisions to get influenced by emotions.
To study how humans make decisions, it is essential to understand the mechanism
of the human brain first. Most adolescents display immature behaviour owing to
the fact that the prefrontal cortex inside the human brain is one of the last
regions to reach maturation. This region provides an individual with the
ability to make rational judgement. The function of the prefrontal cortex is to
obtain information from different senses and harmonize all human thoughts in
order to produce a reasonable and justified action.
This region, however, remains under development during the teenage years. Due to
this under-development, most adolescents indulge in risky tasks even if they
have enough knowledge to understand the intensity of danger that the subject
It is crucial to understand that a child is different from an adult in a manner
that he/she is still in a developing phase and is still adulting. Expecting
the same level of understanding as adults from a child leads a person to treat
two unequals as equals. Therefore, the classification of Juveniles made in
section 15 of the JJA is devoid of intelligible differentia, thus violating
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
To understand this, we shall take an example that will throw light on how the
provision violates the aforementioned article. Suppose there are two children
who have committed a heinous offence of the same nature. One child is 15 years
of age while the other is 16. So according to the provisions of this particular
section, the 15 years old child cannot be and shall not be tried as an adult.
However, this is not the case for the latter. Article 14 of the Indian
Constitution talks about equality before the law as well as equal protection
of the laws within the territory of India for all the citizens', but the same
fundamental right of the 16-year-old child is being violated. Equality does not
mean that the same laws can be applied to all the varying needs of different
classes of persons.
The process of assessing a child's mental capacity is something that neither the
judges can overtake nor can any psychiatrist. A psychiatrist has the capacity to
assess any kind of mental illness or disorder only. Therefore, as already
discussed above, it is impossible to put children and adults on the same footing
as children fall behind in respect to psychological development.
Classifying children on the basis of offence and then sentencing them to adult
trial in no way guarantees equality. Thus, it can be concluded that there is
neither a scientific basis on which this classification was made nor is the
provision safeguarding the fundamental right of children.
Reformative Theory Of Punishment- An Indian Mendacium?
The Juvenile System in India is curative rather than being deterrent and is
based on the Reformative Theory of Punishment, which is indicative of the fact
that Juveniles should be segregated from adult offenders. This theory aims at
reforming the offender through individualization and is based on the Humanistic
principle which dictates that a person does not cease to be a human even after
committing a crime.
The legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle has said, Society is something
that precedes an individual
.� This is a saying that we all have to agree
with. It is also suggestive that the same society must protect itself from the
transgression of people who are trying to harm the society.
However, the principle based on which protection should be achieved need not
always be intimidation, vengeance and hate. Confining a person for the
purpose of social revenge is something that the society must evade.
As mentioned in the introduction, the JJA aims at catering to the basic needs of
children by adopting child-friendly' methods for Juvenile deviance
correction. However, section 15 of the act has opened the possibility of
punishing a child like an adult. This indicates that a child can be subjected to
adult penalties as well which will further introduce him/her to prison life.
Keeping children with adult criminals in the same cell can turn out to be
harmful which will only obstruct their psychological growth. The incarceration
of juvenile offenders in adult prison is a very destructive decision as children
are more receptive to negative ascendancy.
Adult sentences are also one of the reasons for the higher recidivism rate.
Young offenders tend to develop the feeling of helplessness and fear when they
are exposed to lengthy trial methods. Staying with their adult inmates also
instills in them a desire to seek protection which eventually leads them to
adopt negative behaviour.
The overwhelming feelings of weakness, dejection and desperation encourage the
already hopeless children to resort to violence as a means of self-security.
This clearly indicates that such children will fall into the pithole of crime
and violence after being released from prison.
Exposure to the prison culture is surely a pernicious decision as it would only
increase the tendency to recommit a crime, sometimes inside the prison and
sometimes after being released. To add to it, the belligerent environment of
prison restrains them from focusing on their mental growth. In this way, adult
sentences become the reason for the poor rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.
Sealing Of Juvenile Crime Records- An Unforgiving Scar Or A Life Of
In India, any adult person with a criminal record is disqualified from holding a
Government office. However, the person in question can be considered for the
position only when he/she has been acquitted of all the charges by the hon'ble
In the case of the State of West Bengal & Ors. v. Nazrul Islam
Supreme Court held that no person convicted or facing charges of a criminal
offence should be considered for a government job.
In the case of Avtar Singh v. UOI & Ors
., the appellant had concealed
the fact that he was involved in a criminal case. His enlistment for appointment
in CRPF was final but due to the concealment of his criminal record, he was
terminated from service.
Does this also hold true for juvenile offenders after they have become adults
and have been acquitted by the court? Let us take an example to see what the
Supreme Court has to say in this regard.
In the case of UOI & Ors. v. Ramesh Bishnoi
, a unanimous judgement
was delivered by a bench of two judges namely Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and
Justice Vineet Saran. The bench was of the opinion that the criminal record
of a juvenile cannot and shall not act as a hindrance for securing a government
job when the said person becomes an adult. It was also said that the criminal
record of a child needs to be treated as erased
in order for him/her
to live a peaceful life without being burdened by the acts committed in the
Justice Saran said:
The thrust of the legislation, i.e. The Juvenile Justice
(Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 as well as the JJA is that even if a
juvenile is convicted, the same should be obliterated so that there is no stigma
with regard to any crime committed by such a person as a juvenile. This is with
the clear objective to reintegrate such juveniles back into the society as a
normal person, without any stigma. This order ensures that every child who
has been rehabilitated and acquitted has the right to hold a government office
without any hurdles.
However, the law does not favour adults in this regard. Therefore, if a child is
tried like an adult, this condition will apply to him as well. Child offenders
who undergo adult penalties are also subjected to life-long disqualifications
attached to a conviction for an offence even if they are reformed and released
from the place of safety on attaining the age of 21.
Time and again the law has reiterated to seal any documents or names that might
expose the juvenile's details, thus protecting his/her future. Trying these kids
as adults will never allow them to lead a life of tranquility.
When dealing with a criminal case, it is very important to understand the basic
nature of humans or human psychology to study as to why a certain person has
committed a certain offence. The JJA mainly focuses on the handling of juveniles
rather than rehabilitating them.
As a consequence of this, it has completely discarded its original idea of
reformation of children which the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 focused on.
Instead of coming up with provisions that would ensure the development of
children, the government decided to put its major attention on public opinion as
a reaction to which the provisions of this section were borne.
Nelson Mandela has rightly pointed out that Education is the most powerful
and it stands true even in this case. The only way to change the
behaviour of juvenile offenders is to provide them with the opportunity to learn
Educating them on the topic of why they think and act in a certain manner will
definitely help them in gaining insight into their own behaviour. Prison is too
violent a place for such young people.
If the goal is rehabilitation, then prison is not the way to achieve it.
Therefore, the division of age group between 16-18 years should be removed and
the government should rather focus on improving the infrastructure of the
rehabilitation centres so that the recidivism rate goes down and the needs of
the children are well-catered. The State should prohibit itself from losing its
own asset (which in this case happens to be the child) to its own faulty
- State of West Bengal & Ors v. Nazrul Islam, Civil Appeal No. 8638 of
- Avtar Singh v. UOI & Ors., (2016) 8 SCC 471
- UOI & Ors. v. Ramesh Bishnoi, Civil Appeal No. 9109 0f 2019
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Ankita Kumari
Authentication No: JL120092429563-17-0721