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Jury is out on death for juvenile criminals

Tuesday, 8 January 2013 - 10:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
The controversy over the age of the sixth accused in the barbarous gang-rape and murder of the 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi has set off a debate over the need to amend the juvenile law.

The controversy over the age of the sixth accused in the barbarous gang-rape and murder of the 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi has set off a debate over the need to amend the juvenile law, so that child offenders do not escape the maximum punishment for grave crimes.

The legal fraternity is united in its concern over the increasing involvement of young individuals in

Age-old problem
The brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi has triggered a national outrage. Now, much attention is being paid to what sort of trial the youngest of the six accused, who  is  said to be under 18 years of age, will undergo. The maximum sentence a juvenile court can give to a minor is three years at a reform facility. However, not satisfied with the age-related documents submitted by the school principal of the accused, the juvenile justice magistrate has asked for more evidence to verify if the claims of his being minor are true. Now, the accused will undergo a bone ossification test to determine his actual age.

serious crime. But they are seriously divided on the issue of punishment.

“I am in favour of reducing the age limit under the Juvenile Justice Act for the reason that today’s generation are more aware of things going on around them and the maturity levels are high,” said advocate P Runwal.

“Moreover, crime statistics show that petty offences are committed mostly by youngsters and if this is not stopped it graduates to serious crimes.”

According to the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, a person who has not completed the age of 18, and is in conflict with the law can receive a maximum punishment of just three years and must be provided the opportunity to reform at a correctional institution. This is now being questioned as in the Delhi incident, the juvenile among the six accused could get away with a much lighter punishment when he was allegedly the most brutal assaulter in the case. The other five could be punished with life imprisonment.

Advocate Kunal Cheema said, “A juvenile in conflict with law would have to be dealt with according to the mechanism provided in the Juvenile Justice Act. There is no distinction made under the said act, according to the nature of the offence. Thus the act is very clear on what kind of reformative measures should be adopted for the juvenile and no exceptions can be made out.”

What is bone ossification test
The test involves radiology examination to find out how far the person’s bones have ossified (fused).  Infants have 350 bones and they subsequently fuse into 206 bones by the time one turns 25. And the different stages of the fusing of bones can give indications of the real age

There is also talk about amending the act to lower the age limit from 18 to 16 or even 15. But given that children are being exposed to many more things today, many wonder what the age should be and how many times that might have to change over the next few years.  Notwithstanding this debate, India is also bound by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which it is one of the signatories.

According to the convention, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”  This will also influence any decision that may be taken in this regard.


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