The Supreme Court is the latest to ask for a more stringent Juvenile Justice Act. Earlier, Union minister Maneka Gandhi had asked for a change in the law so that anyone above the age of 16 committing a heinous crime like rape would be treated as an adult. During the UPA regime, women and child welfare minister Krishna Tirath had made a similar demand. Incidentally, just a few days ago, the nation was shocked to read a report about a teenager raping a girl child half his age. The issue had cropped up in the light of the gang rape of Nirbhaya in a moving bus in Delhi in which a juvenile allegedly behaved in the cruellest manner.
The juvenile has been given a light punishment of three years’ detention in a correctional home because he was short of 18 by a couple of months. He will soon be released in a mockery of the justice system. The demand that the Act should be amended evoked opposition from child rights and human rights organisations which argued that the law could not be amended to deal with a particular case. While there was merit in the argument, it was also true that boys turned adults at a younger age than was the case earlier. Studies have shown that boys in the 16-18 age-group had a greater tendency to commit crime.
The upper age limit for juveniles varies from country to country. There is, therefore, nothing sacred about the age of 18. In some countries like the USA, age limit is not considered when the crime is of a heinous nature like rape and murder. In some other countries, the judge hearing such cases has the power to decide whether the accused should be treated as a juvenile or an adult. In India, the law is so strict that a person who commits rape a day before he turns 18 is treated as a juvenile. Seen against this background, there is a strong case for strengthening the Juvenile Justice Act to exclude from its purview all those who are above 16.