Crime and Punishment: Age Reduction Risky Affair - The New Indian Express

Crime and Punishment: Age Reduction Risky Affair

Published: 21st December 2013 10:33 AM

Last Updated: 22nd December 2013 08:00 PM

The proposed amendment to decrease the age of juveniles while handling criminal cases is not only regressive, but also a step which would take India down to in the human rights ranking, say experts.

A position paper of the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University, Bangalore,  said  amending the law as a reaction to the country-wide outrage against one juvenile, the minor accused in the December 16 gang rape, would set a dangerous trend and might affect hundreds of adolescents who were currently entitled to the juvenile focused reform and rehabilitative services envisioned in the law that was currently in force.   The paper was presented at a consultation on ensuring the best interest of children in conflict with the law here on Friday.  Contribution of juveniles to crimes like murder and rape as measured against adults is minimal. Most juveniles have been apprehended for crimes such as theft (7,205 juveniles) and burglary (3,520).

According to the National Crime Records Bureau data for the year 2012, the number of juveniles in the age group of 16-18 years apprehended for murder and rape is 1,748 (1,698 boys and 50 girls) which is just 6.26 per cent of all the IPC crimes committed by juveniles.

“Changing the law just because of 1698 boys could affect the 422 million strong child population in our country”, said Bharti Ali, Co-director, HAQ: Centre for CHild Rights. “We fail to understand what the system has done to these children (juveniles) and we talk about lowering the age”, she added with indignation.

India’s offending juveniles are small in number and the problem of crime amongst them can be smartly managed without resorting to the use of the adult criminal system, is the opinion of child rights activists. “We have wonderful laws but execution is abysmal and our attitude is worse”, said Sudha Ramalingam, Senior Advocate at the Madras HC.

Since calls for reform in India’s juvenile justice system include a demand for India to follow the example in the laws of countries like United States of America and United Kingdom, it would be pertinent to look at the prevailing reality of crimes in such countries.

As per Youth Justice Statistics, in 2011-2012, 10-17 year old children in the United Kingdom accounted for 15.5 per cent of all arrests but they were 10.7 of the total population. In the United States, juveniles comprised 10.76 per cent of those arrested in 2012 while 23.5 per cent of the population were below 18 years. It would indeed be dangerous and wrong for India to base its juvenile justice policy on the practices of these countries because the difference in realities between our country and the others is vast.

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