In this post, I am attempting to raise following two questions One, in Juvenile justice, what is more important, juvenile or justice? Second, who do we feel should be the candidate for our compassion and sympathy, the criminal who committed some heinous inhuman act or the innocent victim who suffered for the whims of this immature haughty mind?
Martin Luther king once said “Law and order exists for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress”.
Before an elaboration of facts is made it is imperative that we understand that punishment is awarded for crime committed and if that is diluted then we are indeed acting as catalyst in crime. With these preliminaries I would now like to focus my views on following three points.
1. What should be the right age for someone to be considered juvenile and should the age or nature of crime decide course of justice?
UNICEF a fraternity dedicated to children considers 13 years as the age for someone to be categorized as a child. The concept of minor is not sharply defined in most jurisdictions. For example in United States drinking and keeping arms is not permitted till age of 21, but criminal responsibilities are fixed after age of 12. In Britain though person below 16 is minor but criminal responsibly is fixed after age of 10. Our very own Indian Penal Court 1865 considers offense committed by a minor under 7 as no crime and between age 7 to 12 the course of action should depend on severity of crime, circumstances and mental maturity of offenders. The amendments made in 2000 have arbitrarily set the age of juvenile as 18 years based on internal recommendations not on any predicament under Beijing convention of UNO. Studies conducted have shown that 65 % of juvenile crimes in last two years were committed by people in age group of 16 to 18 years. The parliament in August 2014 has indeed taken right step in lowering the age to 16 again. I would like to stress here that age set in no way grants impunity to offenders to commit murders, do drug trafficking, commit crimes against women or indulge in terrorist act and later show the birth certificate that one is only 15 yrs 11 month so that grants them a kind of license for these evil acts. This is mockery of law. If the crime is heinous the punishment should be equally severe so that it acts like a deterrent for anyone else from repeating that act.
2. What should we try to change, an individual criminal or this growing tendency to crime?
It is true that no one is a born criminal and development of psyche has correlation with circumstances and conditions that people grow up with. This argument that a child born in nation has certain fundamental rights and abuse to those is core reason that breeds criminals should not be mixed up and end up showing solidarity and mercy to those who have acted and harmed innocent in cold blood and unbroken conscience. I would like to ask all those who justify criminals on the basis of upbringing and social injustices, don’t victims a have a right? In my opinion instead of trying to reform a proven criminal, we should try to use them by granting exemplary punishments that will inhibit others to follow their path. The attempt should be to curb the tendency to crime rather that to show consideration to heinous crimes on basis of who committed them. A clear distinction is necessary between a child attempting to steal bread or bicycle from one attempting to assault dignity of women.
3. How to make rehabilitation really effective?
No civilized society can afford to believe in retributive justice .Reform and transformation should indeed be the purpose of imprisonment even in adults. It is unfortunate that jails and rehabilitation centers have become just places in isolation where all rotten eggs are kept together to prevent the stink from getting out. In such environment even a minor offender graduates out to be a mastermind culprit who is a real danger to the society. The rehabilitation centers should have psychologists and psychiatrists and above all a caring environment so that circumstantial offenders can be reformed and brought in main stream. But, here a distinction is to be made that such privilege should be restricted only to those who are not guilty of heinous or anti national crimes because showing mercy on them is injustice to victims of their act. It is important to understand that an injustice done anywhere will lead to injustice everywhere.
To recapitulate, I would only like to say that to err is human and to forgive divine but if your eraser ends before pencil you certainly are overdoing it. Fredrick Robertson once said “three things in this world deserve no mercy, hypocrisy, tyranny and fraud” .I modify that statement as, three crimes in this world deserve no mercy these are, crimes against humanity, against women and against nation.