Harish Jharia

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07 January 2013

Who are juveniles… Why do they enjoy immunity against sentences for heinous crimes, gang rapes and murders?

These children are juvenile (किशोर)... 
But the fully grown 16 to 18 year old are not juvenile (किशोर)...

Relevant contents of this article have been sent to the Justice Verma Commission, set up by the Indian government to recommend ways and means to combat rapes. I have submitted my suggestions to reduce the existing 18 year age specified for juveniles to a much lower age between 12 to 15 years and remove immunity to the fully grown men aged between 16 to 18 and eventually end rape impunity.

© Harish Jharia

‘Juvenile’ is the legal name for the individuals who are under 18 years of age. In other words minors are called juveniles in legal vocabulary.  Juveniles are also called minors, adolescents and किशोर in Hindi. That means an individual would be called juvenile until the last second of the midnight when he or she becomes 18 years of age.  

There are special provisions in the Indian constitution provided for protection of juveniles against any social or legal punishments awarded to them. ‘The juvenile justice (care and protection of children) act 2000’ empowers district administrations to constitute ‘Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs)’. These boards have enormous powers even for reversing punishments awarded by courts. 

In the recent Delhi gang rape case on 16 December 2012 a 17 ½ years old minor boy played the main role of luring the victim and her male friend for boarding the doomed bus.  He is reported to have raped the girl and actively participated in all other barbaric acts including beating the couple brutally and pushing them out of the running bus; that eventually ended up in the death of the gang rape victim girl. 

In another brutal incident, a young man raped a six year girl-child, chopped her body into small pieces and threw the pieces of her body in two different toilets. The trial court awarded him death sentence for the immoral, inhuman and heinous crime. Nevertheless, he approached the Supreme Court who declared him a juvenile and set aside the conviction of death sentence. The case was then forwarded to the Juvenile Justice Board that is empowered to sentence the convict for a maximum detention of three years. 

The juvenile justice act was formulated for providing protection to children. Nevertheless, the definition of juvenile was stretched across all the teenaged minors up to the age of 17-18 years. The age of 17-18 years appears to be too much as far as it is related to the entity of ‘child’. How 17-18 year old men could be treated as children, who have already attained puberty long back and developed sexual reproductive capabilities. 

Boys and girls begin their puberty at the age of 12 approximately, when they develop male and female hormones in their body. Subsequently, they become matured and develop sexual reproductive systems in their bodies at the age of 15-16. Therefore, the childhood of boys and girls finishes at 12 and at 15-16 years of age they do not remain children any more. In fact, they become adolescent at this stage of their lives. 

In view of the above arguments, the 17-18 year old boys and girls considered as juvenile for enjoying children’s rights, appear to be unjustified. Therefore, an amendment to the constitution should be brought to disapprove the present definition of juvenile based on the age of the person    

The parameters of juvenile should be revises in the following manner:
  1. 18 year age of ‘minority’ should not be the parameter for juvenile. 
  2. One should be declared a juvenile based on the stage of his puberty he / she attains at a particular time.  
  3. One should not be considered a juvenile above the age of 15 in any case.
  4. One should be definitely considered a juvenile up to the age of 12.
  5. A suitable age between 12 and 15 could be specified as the maximum age for a juvenile.
  6. The Indian parliament may constitute a committee of experts for finalizing the specified maximum age of a juvenile. 
  7. Finally, a proper constitutional procedure may be followed for making amendments to the existing laws and the ‘The juvenile justice (care and protection of children) act 2000’

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