The number of juveniles or minors, legally those under 18 years of age, taking up crime has seen an alarming high over the past decade. This should be a particular reason to worry about for a country where 47.21 crore i.e. almost 39% of the population is under 18.
According to latest NCRB data, 33,526 cases against juveniles - majority of them in the age group of 16 to 18 years - were recorded for various offences during 2014. This marks a huge spike of 88.14% from the 17,819 cases registered against minors in 2003.
Of the total juveniles apprehended last year, 2,144 were accused of rape and 1,163 were involved in murder. By 2014, this figure has seen a constant rise with over 380% hike from just 466 rape cases registered against juvenile in 2003.
A cause for concern is that the highest share of cases registered against juveniles were reported for theft (20%), rape (5.9%) and grievous hurt and assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (4.7% each).
The lone juvenile accused in the December 16 gang rape case was convicted by a juvenile justice board but is all set to be released on December 20 after spending three years in an observation/reform home.
But his was not an isolated case. In 2014, Delhi recorded over 140 rape cases against juveniles. A year before the number stood at 137. In 2003 only 22 cases of rape were registered against juveniles.
Victims of such crimes often feel cheated. A clear case is the December 16 gang rape victim’s parents being apprehensive about their daughter’s attacker being freed within three years.
The old JJ Act was based on the UN Convention on Child Rights, 1989, which says everybody should be treated as a child up to 18 years. But the Convention indicates it could be changed if national laws recognise a lower age limit for juveniles. Before the 2000 Act, boys below 16 and girls below 18 were considered juveniles.
Noting that involvement of juveniles in heinous crimes such as murder and rape was increasing, the SC on April 6, 2015 asked the Centre to have a re-look at the juvenile law and consider stricter punishment for grave offences.
The new JJ Bill will permits juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous offences. Whether this will be able to tackle the underlying issues behind the rise in juvenile crime remains to be seen.