Updated: May 31
While gazing at black and white for getting the answer we miss the hidings amongst the grey. In India any person above the age of 18 is an adult while a person of the age of 17 Years 11 months 23 days is a juvenile. 7 days will not change the psyche of a person but it certainly will save him/her from getting charged under the laws of the place. Recently Nirbhaya’s rapists were sentenced to death and they were hung, and in this way four of the 6 convicts got the punishment. One Ram Singh died earlier. Mohammad Afroz the youngest of the predators got the benefit of him being months short of the legal age to tender someone as an “adult”. He served three years sentence in Juvenile improvement center and was exonerated in 2015. He raped Nirbhaya twice, put iron rod into her genital organs and clinched out her intestines. Just imagine the brutality of this man and his barbaric nature. He is set free and is roaming in the country with no assurance that he will not redo the monstrous act. He is a villainous person and a therefore a threat to society.
And thus a very simple but exceedingly complicated question arises here, Has Justice been delivered? There is provision of punishment under criminal law because a person who commits a crime is a threat to humanity and such monstrous threats to humanity should not be left unbound, untied and unrestrained. People like him if not sentenced to death, at least should be chained or confined, away from any possible interaction or mingling with the society.. Also, the intent behind punishment under criminal law is to set an example and to create a fear amongst the wrong thinking people of the society.
The laws that set the age of minor as 18 years were age old. Time has changed, new generation is advanced than the preceding one. The time when age of majority was reduced from 21 years to 18 years by the then Rajiv Gandhi government, he was applauded for it. Let us also remember that Rajiv Gandhi was dreaming of IT revolution then, everyone did not have mobile phones then, internet was not known to all and now the electronic world has taken over. In earlier times there used to be a single landline in one house in a region. Today about every child has a smart phone. He can do whatever he deems fit and appeasing without any hesitation and resistance because it does not come to notice. The age of maturity has reduced. Children less than the age of 18 are seen driving cars on the street and they are in large numbers, in case they hit someone the advantage of being a minor will be given to themeven if they knew the pros and cons of driving on the road, since their age falls short of the required age for majority, benefit will be given.
We have heard the saying “Age is just a number”. This does not hold true with regard to administration of law on Juveniles in India. Age is the biggest bone of contention which is causing some unwanted bad omens on the Juvenile Delinquency Delivery System. Although, it is evident that introduction of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 mentions its intent to protect children from the conflict of juveniles with law. It also lays emphasis on children in need of care and protection by catering to their basic needs through proper care, protection, development, treatment, social re-integration, by adopting a child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposal of matters.
But the need of such provisions to people committing such heinous crimes is highly bogus. If their brutality is ageless then why give them these protections? There is a big assumption that whilst giving such protection, there is a scope of improvement but the juveniles capable of committing such brutal, unspeakable crimes never improve. It is evident that in Today’s world, criminals might go to rehab but may come out the same, without any morale changes.
The point of discussion should not be the age but it should be the morality which governs our actions. Like for example, a minor these days might see some adult or be attracted towards pornography without even attaining the actual age or he may use adult chatting apps by misrepresenting his age. Here, he may consider himself as adult because he thinks that the knowledge which was age bound is no more age bound. He has the confidence of calling himself as an adult. Why it is not the case with Juveniles? It should be noted that their actions are not age governed. To be more precise, a juvenile might not think before committing such heinous crimes that he is of this age. He just commits it only knowing that it is wrong.
It is the basics of Criminal law, that an accomplice shall have the similar kind of punishments as the others as it shall be deemed to be believed that all have equally contributed to the crime and hence the punishment shall be the same. Taking into consideration The Nirbhaya Case, the above argument might make sense when it is to be seen with the fact that while having a trial his being a juvenile was futile as: i) He was just months old from being tried as an adult ii) such heinous crimes committed with other accomplices makes him equally guilty of the crime as the others.
Juvenile Justice Delivery system has some latent advantage. The biggest is the age factor which is used to determine the jurisdiction of which law to be used to try the criminal. Cases like Sher Singh @ Sheru V. State of U.P., Hari Ram v. State of Rajasthan & Ors. and the very Nirbhaya Case is the example of such cases where determination of jurisdiction of courts is the pre-requisite for starting an actual proceeding. This not only inculcates unwanted judicial delays but it also ultimately creates an overall judicial pendency in the overall justice delivery mechanism, ultimately defeating the purpose of disposing of cases in a reasonable time.
Not only this, advocates and many solicitors may use age as a number game. For them, justice might be sorted with the help of manipulating the numbers in their favour. They may use the ages of such juveniles in their favour which in turn is a threat to justice at large as it would set as a bad example in the society.
This is the reason why Nirbhaya case was so heavily criticized when it was impugned on the point of Juvenile.
Every law student knows that the lunatic person gets exempted for every act of his because he has no knowledge of the thing he is doing. He is unaware of the good and bad. We all have come across a question that reads as, A is sober all the time but gets lunatic attack during a time slot. He hits B while being under the effect of the attack and he will not be convicted because he was not in right frame of mind or in the language of criminal law, we say he did not intend to hurt B. The opposite should also be taken into consideration, a minor who is mature enough to distinguish between good and bad, should be charged for the crime committed. Remember that the most ferocious convict of Nirbhaya Rape case who was just a few months short of being called major did not get death penalty and was free in 3 years and is roaming freely as we speak, because of a fallacy in our legal system.! It wouldn’t be wrong to say that he is a threat to humanity as a whole. We leave the question upto the readers, We have already let a lot of injustice slide, isn’t it time to start re-thinking and act on changing things now?
Aryaman Singh and Lakshya Sharma,
Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.
(Image used for representational purpose only.)