Justice and the juvenile
Consent of the Juvenile Justice Board on Wednesday for conducting ossification test on one accused in the infamous Phaknung gang-rape case while holding his five other ‘partners in crime’ as juvenile might not go down well with various civil society organisations which have been demanding that age of all those involved in the beastly act should be determined through the standard existing procedures. By passing the order for age verification of only one of the accused and declining to endorse proposal by the police investigators, that all six involved youths should undertake the test on account of incongruent dates of birth mentioned in their matric certificates and Aadhaar cards, the board seems to have not only undermined sensitiveness of the case but also shut the door for delivery of justice to the victims as everybody who do not shudder from committing such socially offensive act deserved to face the consequences. The board’s defiance for ossification test on all the accused youths is also bound to bring the existing provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, often criticised for its pro-delinquent tilt, under sharp scrutiny from certain section of the society as was experienced in the aftermath of December 16 gang-rape case, which had also earned New Delhi the undesired tag of being the rape capital of India. For much too long, juvenile guilty of heinous crime such as rape and murder had been benefitting from benevolent provisions of the JJ Act, 2000 that does not permit treating minor offenders on par with adults for trial and punishment.
Leniency against the juvenile criminals contradicts data maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) that had been showing juvenile crime graph rising at an alarming rate in India. According to the NCRB, 48,230 juveniles were apprehended for various offences during 2014. Of these 36,138 were in the age group of 16-18 years. Of the total 2,144 juveniles allegedly involved in rape, 1,488 were in the age group of 16-18 years. Similarly, out of 1,163 juveniles accused of murder, 844 belonged to the same age group. Regardless of the common belief that victims of juvenile crimes often feel cheated as the JJ Act, 2000 appears tilted towards offenders below 18 years of age, the same Act has the mandate of the international community as it is learnt to be based on the UN Convention on Child Rights, 1989, which says everybody should be treated as a child up to 18 years of age. Notwithstanding, the rising cases of outraging modesty of women and girls, lawmakers of the land appear to be both insensitive to the nature of crime committed by juveniles as well as unwilling to punish them, for the said UN Convention, which indicates that it could be changed if national laws recognise a lower age limit for juveniles, is yet to have any serious impact on those mandated to frame a just law. Interestingly, before the 2000 Act, boys below 16 and girls below 18 were considered juveniles. It is also noteworthy that apparently saddened by increasing involvement of juveniles in heinous crimes such as murder and rape, the Supreme Court had on April 6, 2015 asked the Centre to take a re-look at the juvenile law and make it more deterrent at least in respect of grave offences, though such directive continuous to be ignored by those who are supposed to do the needful.