While television anchors have harangued us about how juvenile crime has risen by 47 per cent, they have failed to inform us that actual juvenile crime is still less than 2 per cent of reported crime figures.
Second, most of it is non-violent crime and often the result of vagrancy. Most importantly, most children in trouble with the law come from extremely poor backgrounds and are often runaways from hunger and abuse at home. Does this most vulnerable section of our society require legislation to keep it from being a menace to the rest of us?
Harsh legislation is a cheap fix for politicians to douse public anger at events. But harsh laws do not diminish the problem, nor do they protect future victims.
- TADA [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act] and POTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act] did not end up reducing terrorism, but they ended up empowering lazy policing.
- The Act to prevent atrocities on Scheduled Castes often ends up as a vendetta tool in government employment.
- Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which was introduced to combat dowry-related crimes, has been so abused that the Supreme Court had to step in to regulate its blatant misuse;
- Criminalising cheque bouncing has resulted in our criminal courts being flooded with cases from financial institutional lenders and magistrates ending up as recovery agents.
- Yet, we as a society, keep clamouring for harsher laws, which politicians enact to escape being targets of outrage. We fail to heed Irish statesman, author and political theorist Edmund Burke’s dictum that “bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny”.
The new Act has made possible the trial of a young offender as an adult if he or she is accused of a heinous crime. Heinous crime is defined as crime that carries a sentence of imprisonment for seven years or more under any law.
A variety of acts, including non-violent crimes such as forgery, or even crimes of incitement such as sedition, attract a prison term of seven years or more. Under the new law, a stone-pelting teenager in Kashmir or a teenage purveyor of counterfeit currency from Kanyakumari is as likely to be treated as an adult criminal.
From the policeman who makes the arrest, to the Juvenile Justice Board that takes the call on whether to allow prosecution as an adult, large amounts of discretion will necessarily operate. Those who can afford it can and will challenge any decision to prosecute in higher courts. The result is more likely to be greater uncertainty, and lesser justice, as criminal trials get stalled by appeals to superior courts.
“Extreme justice is often injustice,” wrote dramatist Jean Racine, and an India that disempowers the loneliest, the lost and the last will be a much harsher place. Whether safety lies in the path of harshness, or in effective implementation of existing laws, is a call for the republic to take.
Q. “The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2015 ignores the reality of juvenile crime and disempowers the most vulnerable section of our society.” Critically comment. (200 Words)