Knee-jerk reactions by successive governments in tinkering with the upper age limit for juveniles appear to be responsible for growing public criticism of the outdated criminal laws.
With a fierce debate raging in the country on the correctness of existing laws, which state that those below 18 years of age, have to be tried by a Juvenile Justice Board for any crime allegedly committed by them, and not in the normal court of law.
The public outrage has been based on allegations and the police version that of the six accused named in the Delhi gangrape case, it was the juvenile who inflicted the maximum brutalities on the victim.Though the first law on protecting children from being prosecuted for having committed a criminal offence was put in place in 1850, constant amendments during the last three decades have compounded the problem.
The 1850 Apprentice Act provided for children in the 10-18 years age group, convicted by courts, to be provided vocational training intended for their future rehabilitation.
The Centre made the first Children Act in 1960 but it was in 1986 that the first central law on juvenile justice came up.
Its definition of juveniles stated :"Juvenile means a boy who has not attained the age of 16 years or a girl who has not attained the age of 18 years."
In 2000 conforming with the United Nations rules, the government raised the age of juveniles to 18 years.
In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that the age of a juvenile accused of having committed any crime, should be determined by ascertaining it on the day of the alleged crime.
Government officials say it would be better to provide an exception in the existing law that juveniles charged with having committed heinous crime should be tried in a regular court of law.