Women and children are both often vulnerable and need legal and institutional protection and safeguards. Probably, that is why they are managed by one ministry, the Ministry of Women and Child Development. But when there’s a conflict between women and children on the verge of adulthood, and the former suffer at the hands of the latter, the whole issue gets complicated as has happened in the Delhi gangrape case. The scales seem to tip in favour of women survivors (and victims). That has been the dominant trend in public discourse, especially as manifested in the mainstream media and on social media.
The dominant mood among a large section of people is to seek more stringent action against this particular juvenile as he was allegedly quite violent in the act. Earlier WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi surprisingly argued for the mandatory registration of juvenile offenders and their monitoring by law enforcement agencies. Her view may be in sync with the popular mood but it is at variance with that of the country’s progressive ethos of jurisprudence and law-making. It is now being claimed that the said juvenile had not reformed or had come under the influence of political radicals. The government should come out with a clear report on this juvenile, putting an end to all speculation. On the other hand, the State cannot cover up its own failures in reforming and rehabilitating young people in conflict with the law by pandering to demands for draconian measures just to please the people. Instead, it should reform juvenile custodial institutions so that there is no need for knee-jerk reactions based on a lone and non-representative case.
If the Juvenile Justice Act must be changed, let it not be in response to a case that has whipped up strong emotions bordering on hysteria. The government and policymakers shouldn’t let one case sway their judgment into making them alter the Act, changing it from a justice-welfare law to a punishing and retributive criminal Act. When the government seeks to amend the law, it should factor in the need to address the root causes of juvenile crimes such as socio-economic distress and disparities, dysfunctional families, and domestic violence.