The involvement of a minor in the rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi has brought the spotlight back on the Juvenile Justice Act. The act does not differentiate between the gravity and nature of offence committed by a minor before sending him/her in safe custody for a maximum period of three years on the discretion of the Juvenile Justice Board.
Some argue that 18 as an age limit is too high to try someone as a juvenile. However, advocate Yug Chaudhry says the debate is purposeless. “India is bound by the UN International Convention on the rights of the child to which it is a signatory. It requires the age of juvenility to be 18 years. There will always be problematic cases on the margin, but that cannot be allowed to overturn the main purpose for juvenile legislation,” he said.
Advocate Asim Sarode also doubts if reducing the age of the juvenile will make a difference. “In some states in the US and European countries, the age of a juvenile is 14 years, but has that stopped them from committing serious crimes? Even if the age is reduced to 16 or 14 years will it make any impact? The need is to understand the psychology of the youth and accordingly frame rules or make amendments to the act instead of reducing the minor’s age criteria,” said Sarode, who recently got two alleged Maoists arrested by the Maharashtra ATS shifted to the juvenile home.
“Today we are being influenced by our emotions as a juvenile is involved in the Delhi rape case. Tomorrow, if the legislature reduces the age to 16 and a heinous crime like that is committed by a child who is 15, would we change it to 14 years? According to me, the law cannot be guided by emotions. The state has a responsibility to balance the rights of both, the victim and the accused,” said advocate Kunal Cheema who practises in the Supreme Court.
Renowned psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty says it is possible to reform the minor if the counsellor manages a good rapport with the child. “However, a lot of patience is required. Miracles do not happen immediately. In case of a skilled hand, three years is a good enough time to ensure reforms,” he said.