The New Juvenile Justice Bill is a Sham

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 has been passed by the Rajya Sabha today. It had earlier been by the Lok Sabha. All that awaits is the assent of the President for it to become law, which itself is rarely ever refused.

It enacts a clause that would allow juveniles aged 16-18 years of age accused of “heinous offences” to be tried and punished as adults.

I personally am deeply hurt, and hang my head in shame. Unable to check the rise in delinquency in juveniles aged 16-18 years of age, the most vulnerable, we have completely abandoned all sense of responsibility towards them.

“Our attitude now, officially, as a country, is: You know what? They want to be criminals, let them be criminals. Not our problem. Except, of course, it’s our problem. A problem we have refused to solve.”

First, the Good

There were several issues with the Bill originally introduced in the Lok Sabha, as elucidated in the report tabled by the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development the Bill was referred to. Those relevant clauses, which were a violation of several constitutional rights, have been deleted when the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha.

Further, the Bill, at least in principle, has provisions to improve the present juvenile justice and rehabilitation system, which is presently indeed in a sorry state. It can only be hoped that the same is implemented in practice.

Now, the Bad

So effectively, the Bill provides for one major change. The Juvenile Justice Board would decide, taking into consideration various factors, whether a juvenile accused aged 16-18 years of age at the time commission of a “heinous offence” (such as, rape, murder, etc.) must be tried and punished like an adult.

I need not further advance the side of the argument in favour of the said clause above. You are already familiar with it.

But I am deeply, deeply hurt at this clause. It is an absolute sham. I am ashamed not so much that the Statement of Object and Reasons for the Bill is based on a misleading interpretation of crime records. I am ashamed at how mob mentality has prevailed over reason.

The previous Juvenile Justice Act recognised juveniles aged 16-18 years of age as the most vulnerable, which indeed they are, as sociologists and behavioral psychologists would testify to.

The fact that a juvenile delinquent 16-18 years of age has committed a crime which ideally shouldn’t have been committed by a juvenile, by its very nature, is indicative of the extremely vulnerable nature of the individual in question.

The cornerstone of the juvenile justice system is not only reformation, but also prevention. It aims to reforms juveniles, who ideally shouldn’t have been criminals, back into sane people. And it also aims to reform those vulnerable who might turn into juvenile delinquents in future (yes, there are preventive provisions too, check the law).

So by establishing the possibility of trying (and punishing) such juvenile delinquents aged 16-18 years of age as adults, we are effectively abdicating our responsibility, as a society, to our most vulnerable juveniles.

And apparently, the worth of a society is reflected in how it treats its most vulnerable, the most marginalized.

Juveniles 16-18 years of age are the most vulnerable in this case. Even if delinquency in juveniles of this age bracket is indeed rising, it is a reflection of their vulnerability, and the failure of the preventive part of the juvenile justice system, and of course, we, the society.

It’s definitely our problem. But abdicating responsibility is definitely not the solution. I am very deeply hurt that instead of owning up to our problems, instead of acknowledging that yes, there’s something wrong with our society, our system, and resolving to correct it, we have abdicated responsibility.

Our attitude now, officially, as a country, is: “You know what? They want to be criminals, let them be criminals. Not our problem.” Except, of course, it’s our problem. A problem we have refused to solve.

I will forever remember this as a black day in my life.

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