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Dec 16 juvenile convict has reopened debate on minors as criminals

editorials Updated: Nov 27, 2015 01:08 IST
Hindustan Times
Delhi gang rape

People take part in a candlelight vigil in Jantar Mantar to protest against soon to walk free juvenile accused in the Delhi gang rape case.(Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Emotion can sometimes get the better of reason as is evident in the case of the juvenile convicted in the infamous Delhi gang rape case, as the days draw close for his release. The Delhi police, clearly influenced by public sentiment, is reportedly considering booking him under the National Security Act, which is a real stretch by any standards. His slated release next month will reopen the debate on juvenile justice, the most contentious point being at what age can a person be considered liable for prosecution for the full sentence of the crime committed, especially when it comes to heinous crimes like rape.

The victim’s parents are arguably anguished that the man who so brutalised their daughter could walk free and very possibly commit another crime. In this regard, it would be worth examining the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which is in force in the US and Canada and requires the police to keep tabs on those released after being convicted of sex crimes.

The Lok Sabha in 2014 passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014, stipulating that the age of the juvenile can be between 16 to 18 years. The problem that the criminal justice system faces is the lack of suitable remand homes and trained personnel who can ascertain the motivation and intention of the crime. Counseling facilities for juveniles are few and far between and this results in juveniles coming out of remand homes as hardened criminals or not reformed at all. The issue has been discussed threadbare in 2012. Yet, three years down the line, little seems to have changed even though there has been an increase in crimes by juveniles. In the case of the Delhi juvenile convict, there is clearly a case for monitoring him after he is released. At the very least, a psychological evaluation must be conducted to ascertain to what extent he has reformed. Calls to reveal his identity and publish his pictures should be carefully examined as these could amount to a violation of his rights, irrespective of his criminal record. The issue of juvenile justice bears looking into further and even though this is an emotive time, we need to resolve the many grey areas on this fraught issue.