Amid the public outcry to put to trial the juvenile accused of the recent gangrape case along with his five adult accomplices, Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir's wife Minna Kabir on Friday expressed a contrary view, saying the society needed to take a balanced approach.
"For the first time I am allowing myself to be quoted so that the message goes across that we treat children as per law," Minna Kabir, who works as a voluntary child rights worker in the legal aid cell at the Juvenile Justice Board, told HT.
Finding no shortcoming in the present Juvenile Justice Act, Kabir said, "This boy is entitled to a just and fair trial under a separate law if he is under 18 years of age and he has a right to be provided with legal aid to defend himself."
Saying that in our anger, indignation and shame we cannot let mass hysteria of revenge take over, disregarding all laws, she questioned why this juvenile accused be treated differently from other juveniles who have committed other heinous crimes.
Asked about the relationship between degree of violence in crimes and punishment, Kabir said, "It's not the crime that matters, it's the child that matters."
Kabir, who has worked as a women and child rights activist since her college days, got specifically involved in juvenile matters when her husband was posted in Ranchi.
She said the Juvenile Justice Act was reformative. "This is not to say that he (the juvenile) has not done something unforgivable but to reform him," she added.
The 23-year-old victim, who was with her male friend, was gangraped and assaulted by five men and the juvenile on a moving bus in the Capital on the night of December 16.
The Delhi police have moved an application for a medical age determination of the juvenile accused, which is pending before the board.
Having the cut-off age for juveniles as 18 is in line with international standards.
The UN Convention for Child Rights defines a child as under 18. "The age was raised from 16 to 18 in 2000 and it was after a lot of deliberation by psychologists, child rights activists that it was brought up," Kabir said.
She called for having special victim legal aid cells and victim crisis intervention centres in all court complexes and police stations.
Urging the public to "strike a balance in their thinking", Kabir said it's the failure of the system in totality and the blame could not be centered on one aspect alone.