Maneka Gandhi has once again stirred a debate on the age of Juveniles convicted of heinous crimes like rape by arguing that she was against raising the age of Juveniles criminals from 16 to 18.
Her comments could not have come at a better time. The Supreme Court has also taken a similar stand on this matter by ruling that “You can’t have a cut-off date for crime as you have for Government jobs.”
These sentiments reflect the feelings of millions of people in this country who have been feeling irritated and threatened by the attitude of law-makers which allows hardened and brutal criminals take shelter behind the Juvenile Act and escape stringent punishment.
This fallacy had become an eye-sore especially after the brutal gang-rape of a hapless medico in a moving bus one horrible night on a cold December night in 2012. The gritty girl who identified her tormentors to everyone who cared later succumbed to her injuries even though she was accorded the best medical treatment possible.
Among the six criminals arrested in the case after the issue hogged international headlines, the most brutal was a teenager who turned into a monster after inviting her, and her male friend into the bus at Munirka just because she refused to take her insult quietly.
Justice Verma Committee that was set up to frame new rules to define rape and sexual offences did a wonderful job and set many land-marks in jurisprudence in accordance with international norms. The committee not only set wider definitions for rape but came down very heavily on people in authority including police and in schools who commit such sexual atrocities, arguing that people in higher places had greater responsibility to protect those under them. And if they turn brutes they must be given exemplary punishment and the quantum of their punishment should be higher.
But unfortunately Justice Verma, who was a former Head of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was very lenient on the Juveniles involved in such crimes. He also quoted international norms to justify his stand that Juveniles should be given a chance to reform instead of being put in jail for life for one mistake.
The issue did generate a lot of debate at that time and during the trial of the accused for the gruesome crime in December 2013 that had shaken the conscience of the entire nation. But Juveniles continue to evade justice since then because the then Minister for Women and Child Welfare, Krishna Teerath formed the majority in the cabinet which vetoed any lowering of the Juvenile age for criminals.
Police records stare us in the face with statistics. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has pointed out that cases of rapes by Juveniles in 2013 was 60 per cent higher that in 2012.
The report has also pointed that even though children from under privileged families still form the majority of juvenile offenders, there had been a 150 per cent rise in involvement of children from families with income of Rs.3,00,000 and above in 2013.
And surprise of surprises, the report has said that as against 35,244 children committing crimes who were living with their families only 2,462 offenders were homeless.
The situation is already grim and even though I hate to be a votary of the ‘Eye for an Eye’ vendetta theory I truly believe that adult crimes deserve adult punishment.
By: Amitabh Srivastava
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