A mature society will not give in to popular clamour and overturn sound legal principles and social norms that underpin its justice system. The popular outrage over the release of a juvenile convict in the December 2012 Delhi gang rape case after a three-year term in a Special Home is understandable, but it is just plainly wrong to demand that his detention should continue. It is a misplaced view that juveniles who fell only a few months short of adulthood in the eye of law and were convicted for heinous crimes such as murder and rape should be tried as adults. Nor is it legally tenable to argue that an ‘unreformed’ convict should not be released back into society on completion of the maximum permissible stint in a home for juveniles in conflict with law. In fact, child-convicts growing into adulthood while being kept in a reformatory institution are ripe for rehabilitation. It will be a greater crime to force them to spend further time in special homes or put them in prison along with adult criminals. It is futile now to seek to establish that the former juvenile released now was the most brutal among the group that committed the gang rape. To say this is not to lose one’s sympathy for the grieving parents of the young rape victim who subsequently died. None can afford to forget the crime that brought forth an unprecedented outpouring of anger and made the whole country introspect about the way it treats its women.
The Delhi High Court has taken the correct view by refusing to stay the convict’s release. It has taken note of the provisions for post-release rehabilitation, especially through an individual care plan for his reintegration with society. The Juvenile Justice Board should also receive quarterly follow-up reports for two years from the child welfare officer, probation officer or the NGO concerned. Claims that the stay in the Special Home had had no effect on him and that he had been ‘radicalised’ during his confinement in the Special Home appear to be desperate arguments by an unconvinced society to stall his release. Children fall foul of the law mainly because of neglect, abuse and poverty. There are no innate human propensities that magically transform cherubic children into unregenerate criminals beyond redemption. The whole object of juvenile law in India is to preserve the scope for rehabilitation and prevent recidivism. There is a pending Bill in Parliament that seeks to carve out a separate category of child offenders in the age group of 16 to 18 involved in heinous crimes and transfer them to regular criminal courts. It would be a retrograde step to enact this provision, even though other clauses in the Bill contain many progressive aspects for children in need of care and protection. It is the wider society that will really benefit from rehabilitative justice for child offenders and their transition to responsible adulthood.
1. How is a Juvenile defined?
2. What is Juvenile Justice Board?
3. What is Juvenile Justice Act?
4. What provisions of JJ Act are being considered for amendment in the current session of Parliament?
5. What is meant by Special Homes?
6. Do you think that the courts have done the right thing by not allowing the continuation of detention of the juvenile convicted in Nirbhaya case?
7. What are the reasons for children under the age of 18 years coming in conflict with the law?
8. What steps do you suggest to bring such children back in the mainstream?
9. How is the society responsible for juveniles coming in conflict with the law?
10. What steps should the Government take to reduce the crime rate perpetrated by juveniles?
11. What is understood by rehabilitative justice?