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8/9/2014 Amending juvenile law - The Hindu

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Opinion Editorial
Published: August 9, 2014 00:38 IST | Updated: August 9, 2014 00:38 IST
Amending juvenile law
Legislative responses ought to be well thought-out, and lawmakers need to be wary of tinkering with existing laws
because of moral panic over one incident. The idea of carving out an exception in the Juvenile Justice Act for children
between the ages of 16 and 18 when they are accused of rape, murder, and other serious offences is completely
retrograde. The Union Cabinets approval for legislative changes that would allow juvenile justice boards to determine
whether cases involving children of this age-group can be transferred to a criminal court is an inappropriate remedy
for the problem of juveniles committing grave offences. First, such categorisation militates against the core principle
that everyone should be treated as a child until the age of 18. The age has been fixed in law based on studies on child
and adolescent behaviour and the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Secondly, making such children face an
adult criminal court would mar the prospect of their rehabilitation and amount to denial of restorative justice. The
main object of juvenile law is to preserve the scope for rehabilitation and prevent recidivism among young offenders.
Even after the horrific gang-rape in Delhi in December 2012, the Supreme Court saw no reason to make exceptions to
the present paradigm of juvenile justice. Nor did the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, which made far-reaching
recommendations on the legal framework on cases involving sexual offences, think on those lines. Official crime data
do not support the theory that juveniles are responsible for any rise in instances of sexual offences.
The case for revisiting the present law is unexceptionable. Courts, governments and activists have noted that the
Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, though laudable in intent, had not fully achieved its objectives. The governments
intention to introduce a fresh, comprehensive law that covers both children in conflict with the law and those in need
of care and protection may be quite an appropriate response. In particular, the draft bill prepared by the Ministry of
Women and Child Development contains forward-looking aspects. The National Commission for Protection of Child
Rights has noted that the bill enunciates fundamental principles for the care, protection and rehabilitation of and
justice for children. Those in need of care and protection now include children living on the streets and child workers.
Both corporal punishment and persistent verbal abuse will be prohibited. Provisions for finding foster care homes for
children are aimed at ensuring mechanisms for non-institutional care. However, the time given for stakeholders to
study the implications of the new bill is inadequate. The government will be well-advised to have wider consultations
before enacting it into law.
Keywords: Juvenile Justice Act, juvenile age, Delhi rape, NCPCR, child rights, JJA amendment
Printable version | Aug 9, 2014 12:43:19 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/amending-juvenile-
The Hindu