Juvenile Justice Bill, retribution over reformative justice.

The government’s recent decision to amend the JJ law, which now regards people between the age of 16 to 18 to be tried as adults for heinous crimes, has flamed much debate in the country over how to tackle the juvenile crime.

The passing of bill seems to be an arbitrary decision by the government under the immense pressure by the media and the public. Misquotation of facts, negligence of problems of current JJ act, 2000 and ulterior political motives has led to passing of a bill which is primitive in nature.

According to the Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, the country has witnessed juvenile crime at an alarming rate in the past ten years. But on a careful look on the stats of NCRB (National Crime Research Bureau), the juvenile crime under the IPC between the year 2004 to 2014 has increased from 1% to just 1.2%. The incidence of rape by children has gone up from 2.9% in 2003 to 4.4% in 2013. But one has to factor the raising age of consent from 16 to 18 years under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

In 1990s, the USA lowered the age of juvenile crime from 18 to 16 years but the researches and the advancement of neurosciences proved this as a failed public policy. Studies have indicated that adolescents who have been exposed to the adult courts and detained in the adult prison are more likely to commit violent crimes than those who go through juvenile justice system.

Section 6 of the JJ act, 2000 ensured that the young delinquents are not exposed to the adult prisons. The company of hardened criminals as inmates would influence the delinquents to commit serious offences rather than being reformed. This section promises to keep away the young offenders from bad company, who are more prone to the influence of them. This will be beneficial for both, the society and the individual. But the new act will fail each of them.

Rather than lowering the age cut off for juvenile crimes, the government should have taken compulsive decisions to improve the juvenile justice homes. According to HAQ report, the juvenile justice system suffers from poor financing, abysmal funding and huge underspending. The budget for the system has declined from 4.52% in 2014–15 to 3.26% in 2015–16. The juvenile justice homes are largely understaffed, lack trained staff members, run poor vocational programmes and are overcrowded by the young offenders due to lack of space and funds.

What actually government should do is concentrate on the areas like counselling of young delinquents and their families, providing well trained staff members, observing and tracking the records of each offender, introducing better vocational programmes and most crucially tying up with National Skills Development Council. The council will help in imparting market required skills to these young offenders and will train them to earn their own living, once they are released.