Should Juveniles in Conflict with Law Face Similar Punishment As Adult Criminals?

Juveniles are not adults, and saying so doesn’t make it so. Besides, we don’t really mean it. When we try them in criminal court, we don’t deem them adults for other purposes, such as voting and drinking. We know they’re still minors, they’re developmentally less mature and responsible and more impulsive, erratic and vulnerable to negative peer pressure.

"Old enough to do the crime, old enough to do the time." This popular refrain reduces a complex reality to simplistic rhetoric. It’s also wrong. While young people must be held accountable for serious crimes, the juvenile justice system exists for precisely that purpose. Funneling more youth into the adult system does no good and much harm.

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Juveniles are not adults, and saying so doesn’t make it so. Besides, we don’t really mean it. When we try them in criminal court, we don’t deem them adults for other purposes, such as voting and drinking. We know they’re still minors, they’re developmentally less mature and responsible and more impulsive, erratic and vulnerable to negative peer pressure. As people, they are still active works in progress. We just don’t like the logical consequences of that reality that they are by nature less culpable than lawbreaking adults, even when they do very bad things. So we change the rules of the game.

Nirbhaya Rape Case

“That boy everyone calls juvenile, he beat her with an iron rod. He inserted it into her body till it went all the way up and yanked it out, and with it, her intestines. As she shouted for him to stop, he screamed at her, 'Saali, mar! (Die, bitch)'. Yet the law calls him a juvenile,” said the mother of 23 year old victim of Delhi gangrape, making a strong case of death to the sixth accused, allegedly a juvenile.

The mother of the victim is not alone in wanting death for the sixth accused, who is said to be close to 18 years old. The sheer bestiality of the crime has pitched those who want juveniles to be treated as adults in exceptional cases of severe crimes against those who believe that there is no need for exceptions, as the law is clear on how minors should be treated. However, in the wake of Delhi gang rape, there have been demands to create a window in the existing law for exceptions in cases where juveniles are convicted for committing crimes of a heinous nature.

Juvenile Define

Juvenile offenders or juveniles in conflict with law are tried under the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) which defines 'juvenile' as a boy or a girl under the age of 18. Capital punishment or life imprisonment cannot be imposed for offences committed by persons below 18, irrespective of the gravity of the crime.

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Does Juvenile court needs to be abloished!

It has been suggested that the entire debate over whether or not to abolish the juvenile court diverts attention away from the most important question confronting the juvenile justice system. The initial causes of much juvenile crime are found in the early learning experiences in the family. They involve weak family bonding and ineffective supervision, child abuse and neglect, and inconsistent and harsh discipline. In addition, there are indications that very poor urban communities put youths at greater risk for involvement in violence. Some neighborhoods also provide special opportunities for learning or participating in violence.

The presence of gangs and illegal drug markets provides exposure to violence, negative role models, and possible rewards for youthful involvement in violent criminal activities. Schools also play a part in generating juvenile violence. An important cause of the onset of serious violent behavior is involvement in a delinquent peer group. Alcohol and guns are also implicated in violent behavior by juveniles. In addition, growing up in poverty and unemployment have major effects on the likelihood that a young person will turn to violence during the transition to adulthood.

From a public policy standpoint, several strategies other than incarceration have been proposed for preventing serious juvenile crime:

  1. Make youth access to handguns harder and make guns safer as a way of reducing gun‐related crimes by juveniles.
  2. Improve schools serving juveniles living in poor urban communities.
  3. Provide parents with the skills and resources to show their children unconditional love in safe settings in order to reduce child abuse and neglect.
  4. Create meaningful job opportunities and employment training programs to attack poverty.

Indian Lawyer's PIL & Views

Delhi based lawyer Shweta Kapoor’s public interest litigation filed in the Delhi High Court demands amendments to the JJA to deal with children who have attained the age of 16 and are involved in serious crime. “Minds of juveniles who have attained the age of 16 and commit serious crimes are well developed and they do not need care and protection of the society. Rather, the society needs care and protection against them,”  The litigation argues that if a juvenile is convicted for committing a serious crime the age of 16,  the juvenile in question should remain in an institution meant for juveniles only till he is 18. After that, the juvenile should be treated like an ordinary criminal and subjected to the imprisonment meant for adults, Says the PIL


Delhi based additional public prosecutor Richa Kapoor believes that an exception should be made in cases in which the documentary evidence is non- conclusive or there is no documentary evidence at all to establish juvenility of the accused. “The court should weigh the criminal conduct of accused and method of crime rather than relying on a bone test which is non- conclusive."

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What will happen if minors are considered as majors for awarding punishment

Keeping the minors in the same setup where the hardcore criminals are kept will also have a huge negative impact on their mindset. They may also turn into hardcore criminals instead of reforming and being a responsible citizen of the country. They need to be given counselling sessions for getting them back into the society and not to let them stay in the prison and abandon them from the society.

The deterrence if it was created by giving capital punishment then there would be less number of rape cases after the Delhi rape case and the Mumbai Shakti mill case because in both the cases the accused were given the death penalty.

But the things haven’t changed since then. The problem of reporting the consensual sex between the minors as rape is also a serious problem. If the age limit is reduced to 16 for rape cases than these minors will also be treated as adults and punished for having a sexual encounter. Mostly there is a tendency to report wrong cases in India by the parents if their minor girl elopes from home with her lover. Right now if the age of the boy is below 18, he is not harshly punished for crimes. But the situation changes once they are treated as adults.

The country has already failed in terms of certain promises done to its citizen. The RTE (right to education) grants right to every child under the age of 14 to be educated. There is a law against prevention of children to work in hazardous industries. Has the government fulfilled those promises? Is every child under the age of 14 educated? Are they not working in hazardous industries? If they are into crime is it the fault of the government that they were unable to protect innocent minds. Reducing the age of juvenile will only make them hardened criminals if kept in the same prison with adults.