Child rights NGOs are of the view that the cut-off age for declaring a person a juvenile should not be reduced from 18 to 16.
They argue that of the total number of crimes committed by 4,906 juveniles in five years, only 3.5% were of rape and none of them committed the crime again.
Amid the outrage after the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl — one of the accused was a juvenile — a debate was organised by child rights NGOs to discuss the issue.
The activists felt that crime would increase if minors were treated as adult convicts as they needed to go through a proper rehabilitation process.
“Many of them are likely to come out of prisons as hardened criminals,” Raaj Mangal Prasad, a child rights activist, said.
“Reducing the age from 18 to 16 would likely result in more children being convicted and sent to prison than being sent to observation homes, thus interrupting the process of completing their education,” Prasad added.
According to experts, any person below the age of 18 is not mentally evolved to be held accountable for any crime.
Dr. Shekhar P Sheshadri, Professor, child and adolescent services, department of psychiatry, NIMHANS, Bangalore, emphasised the need for mandatory assessment of the circumstances under which a rape is committed by a juvenile.
“You need to have a special approach for juveniles. The juvenile in this case had a troubled past and was sent to Delhi to earn money despite being a minor,” said Babu Mathew, visiting professor, National Law University, Delhi.
According to Butterflies, the NGO that organised the debate, family is responsible for nurturing the mental capacity of a child and the kind of environment he is subjected to. “Every child should be given the same sort of basic education and there should be an awareness drive to make others aware of the free education that exists in our system. There should also be compulsory sex education in schools,” a representative of Butterflies said.
According to experts, lack of sex education and gender education instigate children to commit certain crimes.
“Sometimes children are forced to commit crimes under the fear of being abused or harmed. The biggest reason is poverty and helplessness,” he said.