February 25,2015 is a landmark day for us at Prayas when a Rajya Sabha Standing Committee on Human Resource Development placed a report in both Houses of Parliament rejecting misguided attempts by the Ministry for Women Development and Child Welfare to introduce some very harsh measures to deal with what is known as Juveniles, including reducing the age of children from 18 to 16 through the Juvenile Justice Bill 2014.
India happens to be one of the youngest nations of the world with nearly 42 per cent of its population being children. Although the children all over the world have similar mindsets and similar deviants there is a basic difference between how the Western world treats its children and the Indian philosophy.
The Juvenile Justice System (JJ System) in India can be traced back to a differential legal process which goes back to the Reformatory School Act 1876, making it clear that the focus is on reforming the deviant youth or child.
Unfortunately like most of the modern justice systems in India the JJ system is also borrowed from the West. In fact, the very expression ‘juvenile’ which means a child offender is alien to this country or to the Indian culture where it means a young boy and girl, in hindi ‘Kishor’ or ‘Kishori’, ‘Balak’ or ‘Balika’. Perhaps, it is in fitness of this Indian tradition that the highly progressive law in India, ‘the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2000’ covers two categories of children i.e. ‘children in need of care & protection’ and ‘juveniles in conflict with law’.
However in recent years beginning December 16, 2012 when a hapless , medico was brutally gang-raped and beaten up leading to her death there has been a mass of public opinion demanding lowering the age of Juveniles from 18 to 16 because one of the six alleged offenders happened to be a juvenile.
Justice J S Verma who gave a new definition to the term ‘sexual assault’ and added trafficking as a crime under IPC resisted this pressure and so did the UPA II. We at Prayas who have been fighting for child rights for the last 27 years also contested the pressure to reduce the age of children and our contention was upheld by the Supreme Court.
However the new Government in its overdrive to undo everything that the UPA had done seems to have been converted to the prevalent voices of unreason and introduced The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 in the Lok Sabha on August 12, 2014 to amend the laws accordingly.
All child rights oirganisations like us were deeply perturbed but finally we got our chance when the Rajya Sabha Committee for Human Resource Development asked for suggestions from Prayas and representatives of organizations like Tulir-Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, Indian Alliance for Child Rights, Save the Children, Butterflies, Centre for Child and the Law on this vital issue.
We made our representation on January 2,2015 before the Committee headed by Jagat Prakash Nadda and Dr.Satayanarayan Jatiya with 11 members form the Rajya Sabha and 22 from the Lok Sabha.
I am extremely happy that the report placed in Parliament on February 25 upholds most of our suggestions. The Committee has done a thorough job and gone full-throttle to curb the tendency to criminalize a whole generation of youngsters for life.
It has also credited our efforts when it says in its report, “The representative of PRAYAS submitted before the Committee that the underlying principle of the existing juvenile justice system in the country was to keep a separate system of law and justice for the juveniles.This system provided for care and protection to homeless, working, shelter-less and very poor children in the country, thus covering 95 per cent of children in need of care and protection. It was only less than 5 per cent children who commit crimes and come under juvenile system. It was further submitted that while upholding the constitutional validity of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, the Supreme Court concluded that there were only a few number of children committing crimes and that there was no need to reduce the age of 18 years.
It was emphasized that the problem lied not with the law but its implementation. There was section 16 in the existing Act to deal with children in the age group of 16-18 years who were involved in the heinous crimes .Under the proposed legislation, these children have been sought to be treated differently without any justification. The representative expressed strong reservations on the provision as contained in clauses 16, 17, 19 and 22 and on some of the definitions in the proposed legislation. The representative was of considered opinion that children in the age group of 16-18 should not be put in adult criminal system in any circumstance.
In clear legal terms the Committee mentioned that the following observations of the stakeholders had not been addressed by the Ministry, while coming up with the proposed legislation:
1.India had a long legislative history of dealing with the protection of children which is being eroded by the proposed legislation. Indian Penal Code (1860), CrPC (1898-1973) distinguished amongst the children/adolescent in the age group of 7 to 12, 12-21, provided for exemptions and no punishments; Children’s Act (1960), provided to deal with neglected, delinquent children, juvenile boys below 16 years and girls below 18 years, Juvenile Justice Act, (1986) replicated definition of Juvenile from the Children’s Act; Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 ensured India’s compliance UNCRC, provided for authorities and mechanisms to deal with juveniles in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection;
2.Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 was a very sound, progressive piece of legislation, reformatory in nature, only needed strengthening;
3.National Crime Records Bureau data should be viewed with circumspection, as it does not reflect disposal of cases;
4.Number of crimes committed by children between 2012-13 just 1.2 per cent of a population of 472 million children which is miniscule, a good number of offences committed by children are sexual offences which were love affairs and elopement cases;
5.Research has shown that adolescence is a particular age where brain has not fully developed;
6.Children are more amenable to reforms;
7.Children cannot be attributed same standards of culpability as adults due to their immaturity;
8.For children in conflict with law there needs to be a balance between sentencing, punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation;
9.Philosophy of juvenile jurisprudence centres around quality of restoration,rehabilitation and reform restorative justice approach is gaining international recognition across the world;
10.Some sections of the Bill violate UNCRC principles and constitutional provisions;
11.Some sections of the Bill are regressive in nature-introduction of transfer system for children between 16-18 years alleged to have committed heinous offences to be tried and treated as an adult marks a shift from rehabilitation to retribution, introduction of heinous categories of crimes and apprehending a juvenile after completing 21 years for a heinous crime committed between 16-18 years and be tried as an adult are regressive and retributive features.”
One of the most misrepresented grounds for reducing the age of children from 18 to 16 is the report of the National Crime Records Bureau (Crimes in India, 2013) which seems to indicate that there is a sudden spurt in crimes by Juvenile children. But one cannot look at figures in a vacuum. Statistics give their real meaning only when placed in comparison with the big picture. The figures given below are self explanatory and the Parliamentary Committee has quoted verbatim the following chart prepared by our dedicated team of the Institute of Juvenile Justice which is a matter of pride both for me and our team.
|Year||Total Cognizable Crimes||Total Juvenile Crimes||Percentage of Juvenile Crimes to Total Cognisable crimes|
The Committee went a step further and said that the number of crimes of Juveniles was exaggerated because it counts the cases where FIRs had been filed. After investigation this number comes down much further.
The Last Nail
Yet another salient part of the report is the comparison between figures of the rising crime graph in the country. The report could not be more specific and categorical and I would end by quoting from it again where it says, It is evident that juvenile crime is a minuscule proportion of total crime committed and that the same is not significantly increasing. Such small numbers can most easily be dealt with under the juvenile justice system with appropriate infrastructure and human resources.
Furthermore, when we compare these numbers with the child population, it is evident that the increase is mostly hypothetical rather than a reality. Juvenile crimes were only 1.2 per cent in 2012 and 2013 as compared to the child population of 472 million in 2013. Moreover, it is important to note that a similar increase has been noted in crimes committed against women by the general population in 2013 also.
By: Amod Kanth, General Secretary Prayas
Former DGP Goa and Arunachal Pradesh
as told to Amitabh Srivastava