Minors older than 16 have been found involved in a number of gruesome cases, e.g, the Nirbhaya gang rape murder (December 2012), Shakti Mills gang rape (2013) and Adnam Patrawala kidnap-murder (2007). It is reassuring that the Juvenile Justice Act to allow for trial of juveniles in the age group of 16-18 accused of heinous crimes under the IPC is to be changed. The Modi government has given in to the public outcry for a tougher deterrent against young criminals who go unpunished because of lenient provisions under the existing law. The Juvenile Justice Boards will now determine whether a juvenile accused of a gruesome crime should be treated as a child or as an adult. The proposed bill also provides for the classification of different crimes as petty, serious and heinous, to fall under different processes for each category. Under the existing law, only those aged 18 and above are tried under the IPC.
The decision has been taken in the wake of public agitation caused by the Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi. One of the accused is a juvenile and yet the most brutal of the gang. Of course, child rights activists and members of the parliamentary standing committee opposed a change in the law. But it has been argued that since the Juvenile Justice Boards will include psychologists and social experts, they will ensure that the rights of juveniles are duly protected. Admittedly, the UN laws put the young on a different footing in matters of crime and punishment. But heinous crimes like gang rape are a totally different proposition. It is not merely that the proposed change in the Juvenile Justice Act is justified. There is skepticism about how effectively and expeditiously the new law will be enforced.