Not a grown-up debate

Jul 24 2014, 08:16 IST
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SummaryThe argument for sending juveniles to jail is based on flawed assumptions

The women and child development ministry posted the Juvenile Justice Bill 2014 on its website on June 18 and is already set to send it to the law ministry. This bill does not reflect the deliberations of the review committee. The fate of submissions made to the ministry remains a mystery and it is being rushed even though the Law Commission of India is preparing a report on the subject.

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi is reported to have said, “According to the police, 50 per cent of all sexual crimes were committed by 16-year-olds who know the Juvenile Justice Act so they can do it.” Three arguments have been put forth in the media in support of excluding children who are aged between 16 and 18, and have committed serious crimes, from juvenile justice. First, that children aged 16-18 are old enough to distinguish between right and wrong and so must bear the penal consequences of their actions. Second, there has reportedly been a tremendous increase in rape and murder by children. Third, children are committing more offences because apparently they know that they cannot be punished under the JJ Act, 2000. Each one of these assumptions is incorrect and needs to be refuted.

Children aged between 16 and 18 can distinguish right from wrong, but their ability to control risk- and pleasure-seeking behaviour is very weak. Adolescent brain imaging and monitoring have found that the part of the brain that promotes risk-taking behaviour is much more developed than the part that controls those instincts. In the absence of sufficient social guidance and supervision from parents as well as from the state, adolescents are even more vulnerable to the pressures of their brain. Adolescents cannot be dealt with like adults as their brains at that age are not like adults’.

According to official records, a total of 1,372 boys and 16 girls in the 16-18 age group were arrested (but not convicted) for rape in 2013. This constitutes 4 per cent of the total number of rape cases reported, not 50 per cent, as claimed by Maneka Gandhi. It also amounts to a mere 0.002 per cent of the children in this age group in India.

The National Crime Records Bureau’s “Crime in India 2013” does report a 60.3 per cent increase in the number of children and a 35.2 per cent increase in the number of adults

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