Mid-January last year a fragile, dazed 14-year-old girl walked into the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences Trauma Centre here clutching what looked like a tiny bundle of clothes. Sensing something amiss, the medical staff there immediately swung into action, unfolding what was to be one of the worst reported cases of child assault by a juvenile in the country.
Malnourished, pregnant and with a history of being violently abused mentally, physically and sexually, this 14-year-old juvenile – who was entrusted the sole care of the two-year-old child – had in a fit of rage assaulted the baby causing it severe head injuries and fracture in both arms. She had also bitten the child all over the body.
The baby died in the trauma centre after surviving five surgeries and 56 days of intensive, round-the-clock medical care by the hospital staff.
While a shocked nation mourned the death of the baby and shuddered at the brutality with which a juvenile had assaulted her, Indian laws governing a juvenile, in conflict with law and child rights activists, stood by this 14-year-old (booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) insisting that she be given a “second chance”.
Former chairperson of Lajpat Nagar-based Child Welfare Committee Raj Mangal Prasad – who was among the first officials to interact with the juvenile – said: “Here was a girl who had a history of being abused repeatedly. So horrid was the abuse by her own father that even after he was traced she refused to go back to him opting instead to stay at a government approved rehabilitation home in Delhi.”
“Now when the country is seeing another case (gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old girl) involving a juvenile the focus has again come back to stricter punishment for juveniles in conflict with law. I am of the opinion that no blanket rule can be formed on the basis of one case,” cautioned Mr. Prasad.
He explained that the juvenile who assaulted the infant had lost her mother early in life and had survived physical, mental and sexual abuse by her father who even pushed her into prostitution.
“Exhausted, she ran away and started living with a married man in Delhi. It was he who handed the baby to the care of an inexperienced14-year-old and left for Mumbai to attend to a family emergency…. The juvenile apparently dropped the baby while giving her a bath and when the child would not stop crying the girl assaulted her but later took her to the hospital,” Mr. Prasad added.
“After the juvenile was brought to the child welfare committee and juvenile justice board, she was offered extensive physical and emotional rehabilitation. For over a decade of her life this young girl had known nothing but exploitation and abuse. The society had failed her,” insisted Mr. Prasad.
Seconding the view that “no hasty or emotional decision should be taken to lower the age for punishment of juveniles in conflict with law”, National Commission for Protection of Child Right’s chairperson Shanta Sinha said: “We are aware of the discussion and the sentiments of the public after the brutal rape and assault of the 23-year-old girl but we have to understand that the juvenile involved in the case has a history. We can’t charge this juvenile based on this one incident, we have to go into the background and understand the reasons why this juvenile was driven to commit this crime.”
She noted that the society had a collective responsibility for children going astray. “We have to ensure that these juvenile’s in conflict with law are helped and enabled to make a positive turn around and become productive human beings,” said Ms. Sinha.