Have you joked about committing a crime after hearing about the juvenile laws of our country? Unfortunately, we missed that opportunity when we became adults. Turns out, these kinds of ‘opportunities’ are not favoured in the legal world, and we have laws in place that are more complex than we think they are.
We cannot commit a crime and go unpunished for the same, even as minors. There are certain laws and provisions which play an active role in this and we must be aware of these laws to prevent the committing of crimes in the future.
This brings us to our first question- Who is a Juvenile?
The law describes a juvenile as someone who has not attained the age of majority yet. The threshold for attaining that age is 18 years. Hence, a person below the age of 18 years considered a juvenile in India. When an individual reaches a particular age, he or she is considered mature enough to understand the consequence of their actions.
The legislation in our country has various provisions for the benefits of young minds. It deals with matters of children who are ‘in conflict with the law’ and ‘in need of care and protection of the law’. Those children who are ‘in conflict with the law’ are known as Juvenile Delinquents.
What is Juvenile Delinquency?
When a child commits an offence, it is termed as juvenile delinquency and the child is known as a juvenile delinquent or ‘in conflict with the law’.
There are numerous cases in India where a minor commits a heinous crime and is treated as a juvenile with no harsh consequences to their acts. According to the Juvenile Justice Acts, the punishment for the commission of an offence by a juvenile attracts a punishment of 3 years, even if they commit odious offences such as rape and murder. This has proven to be a major loophole in the Indian legislative system.
What brought a change in this system was the infamous ‘Nirbhaya Rape case’. People were outraged by the sheer inhuman act, especially considering one of the criminals involved was a minor who was treated as a juvenile delinquent without suffering punishments for his acts. The continuous anger of citizens called for a change in the already prevalent Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children act) 2000. Additionally, Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children act) 2015 was introduced, replacing the existing one.
The Juvenile Justice Acts
The Juvenile Justice Act, 1986
This act laid down basic principles for juveniles in India. It ensured proper care for children who were ‘in need of care and protection’ of law and provided for proper rehabilitation centres for juvenile delinquents. As per this act, the age of adulthood for a male child was 16 years whereas that of a female child was 18 years.
The Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children) Act, 2000
Known as the primal legal framework, this act was more focused on the rehabilitation of minors. The procedure followed by the court in the case of an offence committed by a minor was different from that of an adult tried in the court of law. Moreover, the age of maturity for boys was extended from 16 years to 18 years.
The Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children) Act, 2015
This was the most recent change brought to the legislation of India. Enacted in 2015, it made its way to media headlines because it stated that minors between the age of 16 to 18 who have committed a heinous and serious crime will be tried as adults and not as juveniles.
As per this Act, when a person aged 16 years commits a heinous crime, he or she is subjected to imprisonment for 7 years. The individual is treated like as an adult and is kept in a safe home until the age of 21. The individual is then shifted to prison if he or she comes of age before the completion of their sentence.
This new act sure did bring major changes in the laws for juveniles. Earlier, a person with a criminal mind was exempted from charges and was treated as a minor. This encouraged and drove people to commit crimes at a very young age, increasing juvenile crime rates by the day.
Section 82 and Section 83 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
Section 82 of the Indian Penal Code states that nothing is an offence if it is done by a child below the age of seven years. As children below the age of seven are not mature enough to understand the nature and the consequences of their action, they are completely exempted from criminal liability.
Section 83 of the Indian Penal Code states that nothing is an offence done by a child above seven years of age or below twelve years of age if he or she is not mature enough to understand the nature of their act. However, if they are found to have sufficient maturity, they come under Juvenile Delinquents.
These sections of the IPC deal with the legal principle “Doli incapax.” It translates to the inability of a child to apprehend or understand the consequences of their acts. This means that they will not be tried as adults when they commit an offence rather they will be put under special care for rehabilitation.
The child will be treated as a delinquent if he or she commits an offence and is above 12 and below 18 years of age. The child will be tried as a juvenile committing the offence in the designated Juvenile Justice Board.
Section 27 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
It deals with the jurisdiction in the case of juveniles. Any offence not punishable with death or imprisonment for life, committed by an individual who at the date when he or she appears or is brought before the Court is under the age of sixteen years, may be tried by the Court of a Chief Judicial Magistrate, or by any Court specially empowered under the Children Act, 1960 (60 of 1960), or any other law for the time being in force providing for the treatment, training, and rehabilitation of youthful offenders.
But the real question is- does age determine maturity levels and criminal minds?
Maturity doesn’t come with age. Rather, it comes with values, the environment and the principles surrounding the child. A child is not born with the seeds of a criminal within themselves. It is the values taught to the child and inculcated within which helps them gain enough maturity to apprehend the nature of the act done by them.
As mentioned, maturity is not only dependent on age and thus, observing the crime rates, the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 brought a change and youngsters between 16 and 18 years of age are now tried as adults for serious crimes. If we compare the ages seven and below and that of between 7 to 12, again maturity level is divided by age. If a child below the age of seven has the maturity to understand the nature of their acts, but he or she is exempted from punishment, wouldn’t they be encouraged to recommit these crimes later on? If an individual of the age of 17 commits a heinous crime but does not understand the nature of his or her acts, they will still be treated as an adult. Is that fair? If all these questions are taken into account it will cause chaos within the legislature. India, being a vast country with the second-largest population, will have a pandemonium. How do you determine if a person is mature enough or not? To ensure uniformity, the division based on age was adopted. It was observed that if the majority of the population of the same age group shows similar behaviour and understanding, they were grouped into that particular level of age.
Should the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 be an exception to Article 20(1) and 20(2) of the Indian Constitution?
Article 20(1) of the Indian Constitution states that no person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of the law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence.
It works on the principles of the Ex-post Facto Law. For example, the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 was passed in 2015. The person committing an offence after 2015 will be governed under this particular Act. However, if the person committed the same offence before the said Act, he would be governed according to the Act prevalent at that time.
Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution states that no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence twice.
The degree of punishments for the offence of theft and that of Rape committed by an adult vary vastly. Before the enactment of the act, when a juvenile committed both the offences, the punishment was the same. Due to this, they were not able to comprehend between the degrees of severability of the two offences. As a result, they roam freely in the country without realizing the degree of offence they committed. So, can the mentioned Act be an exception for 20(1) of the Indian Constitution? If it is made an exception, Article 20(2) comes into force. This article will not allow the Act to become an exception to 20(1) of the Indian Constitution, making the act an exception for both or neither.
However, this is a subject to many debates. There are various other laws and Acts which will be violated if this Act is made an exception. Our legislature has a reformative approach rather than a retributive approach and it believes in giving the offender ‘a second chance’ instead of simply punishing them.
Reasons for Delinquency-
There are several reasons why a minor falls prey to juvenile delinquency. This may include emotional factors, environmental factors, physical factors and psychological factors.
Environment- The environment plays a significant role in the development of a child. If the surrounding environment is positive, it urges the child towards a more positive nature. However, if it is not, the child is influenced to commit acts not encouraged by the law
Company- The company of a child has a great impact on their mental upbringing. If a child surrounds himself with bad company, he or she is more prone to committing undesirable offences.
Substance Abuse- If at a very young age an individual is introduced to abusive substances, it inculcates within them to carry out the same activity, and hence the child falls prey to juvenile delinquency.
Traumatic Experiences- Sometimes, past experiences also play an important role in the development of a young mind. To escape the reality of the situation, minors sometimes commit an offence which was not prescribed as a proper act.
Family issues- Family plays the most important role because from the get-go a child grows up surrounded by their family. How the family behaves in front of the child is a very important factor. If a child comes from an abusive family, he or she is more prone to commit an offence as compared to a child who comes from a family of positive values.
From an early age, a child can be moulded into the desired character. Childhood is like wet clay which can be turned into any shape. If moulded properly, it turns out to be a beautiful masterpiece but if not handled properly, will become hard to use.
A child perceives his or her surroundings and grows accordingly. To prevent a child from indulging in criminal activities, certain reforms should be made. First, early education on offensive acts is required. Certain programs about what is right and what is offensive should be induced in the early stages of education. Furthermore, families should not neglect their child if they are going through difficult times. Rather, they should support them and encourage them to improve and not reprimand them if they tried and failed. Lastly, children should not be subjected to an abusive family. A child is deeply affected by the environment he or she is provided and they should be protected from this so that their innocent years are not tainted by dark roots.
All in all, crime rates have seen an increase, especially in the case of teenagers because juvenile laws protect them from punishment. However, they do face certain obstacles as well. They are treated as criminals by society. Even after being convicted for their crimes they are not convicted by the judging eyes of society. They have to deal with it for the rest of their lives and because of which they end up being victims of mental and physical health problems as well. Even those who have not been proven guilty yet are subjected to similar treatment. It is high time these problems are taken into account and the convicted are given a chance to prove themselves once again. India needs to focus more on its juvenile laws and helping young minds become strong pillars for the future of the country.