Just two days ago, the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) announced that the 16-year-old minor, accused of killing seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur on the premises of Ryan International School, will be tried as an adult. It is understood that this decision was taken on the basis of the report based on behavioral, sociological and psychological aspects of the juvenile. The report declared the child as abnormal and showing hyper-aggressive streak to his personality. JJB declared that the accused was mature enough to recognise consequences of his action.
This is a one of its kind decision. As a result of this the child will be produced before sessions court and in case of conviction, he could be sentenced to even 14 years in jail. In case of conviction, the juvenile will stay in the observation home till the age of 21, however, as per section 21 of the JJ act, he cannot be sentenced to death or life imprisonment. It is said that the decision was taken on the basis of the amendments carried out in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 which came into effect from January 25, 2016.
The involvement of a minor in heinous gang-rape and murder case of a young girl in Delhi served as the trigger point to the discussion that minors involved in serious crimes should be treated as adults. The role of minor in Nirbhaya case angered many in the government. The Union government then proposed to deny protection to minors involved in heinous crimes under the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act. This proposal met with violent protests from child rights activist who called this a transgression of justice and a knee-jerk reaction to the Delhi gangrape case.
According to National Crime Records Bureau Data (NCRB) in last three years, the number of cases involving juveniles in conflict with the law shows a steady increase in numbers. From 2014 until this year 38,455, 33,433 and 35,849 cases were registered involving juveniles in conflict with the law.
The child right activists clamoured down this proposal and said that lowering the age from 18 to 16 years and giving harsher punishment to children involved in criminal cases is not the right solution for this problem of increasing involvement of minors in the case.
Even then Chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Right (NCPCR) had slammed the government stating that if the child does not have the right to fight his or her case then he should not be tried for the criminal case.
This case will have a far-reaching impact on the number of the juveniles in conflict with the law. This decision sets the new rhetoric in place wherein regardless of circumstances and his family background, the child will be held responsible for his actions.
Tata Institute Social Science Professor Asha Bajpai, who was on a High Court-appointed State monitoring committee on juvenile justice said she is against minors being tried as adults. She said she completely understands the pain and grief suffered by the parents of a child but added that one also needs to understand that a 16-year-old boy who allegedly committed this crime was so frustrated that he had no one to approach too. Bajpai added that had his parent, teachers or counselors were supportive in understanding his problem, this incident would not have happened. She added that just giving serious punishment to minors involved in serious crimes will not reduce the cases involving juveniles having conflict with the law. She demanded that the government focus on preventing such incidents from taking place.