As the proposed amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, passed in the Lok Sabha on May 7, faces the Rajya Sabha hurdle, several child rights experts have begun to challenge its premise for treating adolescents accused of heinous crimes on a par with adults. Their primary contention is that the basis for proposing such amendments for stringent action is flawed and unlikely to act as a deterrent.Victim, not perpetrator
Amod Kanth, former DGP Goa, and one of the experts who drafted the original Juvenile Justice Act in 1999, told The Hindu that it was the media blowing out of proportion the role played by the youth in the December 16, 2012, Delhi gang rape case, that created the perceived need for stringent action against such crimes. “The government seems to be motivated by the need to send out a strong message that youth engaging in such crimes will not be spared.”
But the 3,000+ heinous crime by juveniles statistics presented in the Lok Sabha by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi are only reported figures based on FIRs and the actual number of such crimes are much lower, he argued.
Sreedhar Mether, advocacy and policy manager at Save the Children, pointed out that most teen rape cases turn out to be cases of elopement wrongly booked as rape. “Also the provision in the new law of judging the mindset of the juvenile criminal as adult-like or child-like is arbitrary,” he said.
Contrary to the growing perception that juvenile criminals are increasingly committing offences such as rape, they are often victims of abuse themselves. A 2013 report by Asian Centre for Human Rights titled ‘India’s Hell Holes’ has extensively documented the incident of child sexual assault in juvenile justice homes. It documents cases of boys getting sodomised and girls getting sexually abused or beaten up in government-run “protection” homes across India.
Santosh (name changed to protect identity) , a 21-year-old boy from Madipur, Delhi, who had earlier been admitted to a juvenile prison under charges of robbery, told The Hindu that inside Delhi’s juvenile homes inmates were routinely abused and the guards would even buy them drugs for money.
Experts argue that stringent punishment as a deterrent to juvenile crime is a red herring. The need of the hour is meaningful investment in care and protection.Paltry allocation
“This year’s Union Budget only provides Rs. 633 crore (0.8 per cent of the total allocation for children) for child protection. It is grossly insufficient to implement central schemes such as the Integrated Child Protection Scheme,” Mr. Mether said.
Nineteen-year-old Aashim (name changed to protect identity)from Seelampur, Delhi, was apprehended for murder at the age of 13. After getting treated at the SPYM de-addiction centre for juveniles, he now works there full-time. He told The Hindu , “I initially found it hard to overcome my addiction to smack. But with treatment and meditation I am now leading a reformed life. I still have friends who tempt me into committing crimes like theft, but I feel concerned about my mother and two sisters and do not wish to return to that life again.”
Rajesh Kumar, who runs the SPYM de-addiction centre, said that most cases of juvenile crimes stem from substance abuse. “But in the whole country, not even one de-addiction centre dedicated entirely for children exists. Even a government hospital like AIIMS has only two beds to treat adolescent addiction. Can we hope to curb juvenile crime without investing in stemming the causes?”