The debate on whether the age limit of a juvenile should be reduced to 16 years sparks after every crime involving a minor accused makes news. However, experts working in the field of juvenile justice feel there is more than meets the eye and lowering the age is not a solution.
“There is a scientific reason behind why the cut-off age is 18 years. By 18, the physical, mental and cognitive development reaches its full potential and one has the ability to judge and comprehend. Just because of a few cases, we cannot demand that the age be lowered to 16. The demand is based on the term ‘maturity’, which is very subjective. We must concentrate on how we can prevent such incidents under the already available conditions,” said Kumar Nilendu, general manager, Child Rights and You (CRY), at a workshop on Monday.
The Juvenile Justice Act refers to two kinds of children — children in need of care and protection (CNCP) and juvenile in conflict with law (JCL). “There is a lot of grey area on who is a CNCP and who is a JCL. Ultimately, a child falls under CNCP. Circumstances, in most cases, make him/her a JCL. In the end, every child needs care and protection and the child who commits a crime is often a result of the circumstances,” said Asha Mukundan from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Citing examples from their time in the field, Mukundan said it is often the perception of the police handling the case which affects what a juvenile is treated as.
Experts also pointed out to what is referred as a serious and a non-serious crime. “For society, a murder or rape is a serious crime but it is often done in an impulse and chances of it being repeated are rare. However, theft, which is categorised as a non-serious crime, is more dangerous when committed by children because they do it again and again. It is difficult to make them unlearn that, and this is a greater threat,” she said.
The most important concern raised by activists is the growing resentment of community in accepting back JCL. “Over the past few years, the society is shutting its doors on such children.
Schools expel them and, if that happens, all ways to rehabilitate the children fail,” said Mukundan.