The Nirbhaya case of 2012 shook the entire nation and caused outrage at the injustice of the situation. It sparked a nationwide campaign for stricter laws and harsher punishments for those who committed such heinous crimes. As a result, the Juvenile Justice Act of India was amended in 2015, with the aim of providing better protection for women and children. But does this amendment really protect the rights of the victims? This article will provide an in-depth look at the changes in India’s Juvenile Justice Act post the Nirbhaya case and analyze whether it is a step forward or backward in the fight for justice.
Overview of the Nirbhaya Case
The Nirbhaya case shook the entire nation. Nirbhaya was a young woman who was a medical student in Delhi. On the night of December 16, 2012, she and her friend were attacked by six men including a 17-year-old juvenile in a moving bus. The men assaulted Nirbhaya with a steel rod, and her friend was also brutally beaten. The assailants threw both of them out of the bus, and Nirbhaya was found in a semi-conscious state. It took her two weeks to die, and by then, the entire nation was in a shock and outrage at the death of this promising young woman. The unfortunate incident triggered a nationwide campaign for stricter laws and stricter punishments for those who commit such heinous crimes. People felt that with the lighter sentences under the Juvenile Justice Act, the culprits would not face the same consequences. The act provides special protections such as lenient sentence, lesser fines, and a lesser chance of being put in jail for the offenders between the age of 16 and 18 years.
Overview of the Juvenile Justice Act of India
The Juvenile Justice Act of India came into effect in the year 2000. The main purpose of the act was to provide protection to the children who were below 18 years of age. The act came into effect to ensure that children who commit crimes are not treated as adults. The act comprises of 3 important aspects which are- i) Definition of a ‘child’ ii) The procedure followed after an arrest iii) Special protections for children who are accused of crimes The act provides a definition for a child which means an individual who is below 18 years of age. The Juvenile Justice Board decides if an individual is above 18 years of age or not. If the accused is above 18 years of age, the provisions of the Indian Penal Code apply.
Changes made to the Juvenile Justice Act
The amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act was made in the year 2015. This amendment brought about several changes in the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. The main changes in the act were- i) The age of a ‘child’ was changed from 18 years to 16 years. ii) The maximum punishment for an offender above 16 years of age was reduced from 3 years to 2 years. iii) A ‘child’ above 16 years of age could be tried as an adult if the heinousness of the crime committed was such that the punishment for an adult was imprisonment for 7 years or more. iv) The act made it mandatory for the Juvenile Justice Board to try an accused between 16 and 18 years of age as an adult. v) The amendment made it mandatory for the victims to file an application before the judge to try the accused as an adult.
Arguments in Favor of the Amendment
The amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act was made to ensure that a child who commits a crime is punished and learned his lesson, but not as harshly as an adult. The child can be reformed and corrected and become a useful member of the society. Children below 16 years of age have not attained the mental capacity to understand what they are doing. The amendment has reduced the maximum punishment from 3 years to 2 years and ensured that the child is punished but not too harshly. The amendment has brought justice to the victims by putting the guilty behind bars and ending the threat they pose to society.
Arguments Against the Amendment
The amendment has decreased the special protection given to children between 16 and 18 years of age. The act has made it mandatory for the Juvenile Justice Board to try an accused as an adult. The children in this age group are at a delicate stage of their lives. The amendment has made it mandatory for them to be tried as an adult and increased the punishment to 7 years of imprisonment. The children above 16 years of age are at a stage where they are still immature and have not attained the necessary mental capacity. They can easily be reformed and corrected and become useful members of society.
There were also concerns raised regarding the procedure for the Juvenile Justice Board’s preliminary inquiry. However, the problem was determined to be not with the provisions of the previous Act, but with the way they were implemented. In several states, the care institutions that should have been established under the 2000 Act were either not established or not operational. Even when functional, they were dysfunctional in several states. Despite their functional status, these agencies suffered problems due to inadequate funds, inadequate training, and a lack of individual care plans (Parliamentary Standing Committee 2015: 20). In the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape case, the Justice Verma Committee was formed to suggest possible criminal law amendments. It was also found that juvenile care homes were not carrying out the Juvenile Justice Act in a proper manner (Verma et al 2013: 419).
Hence, the intent behind the formulation of a new legislation altogether had been questioned for not focusing on improving the existing infrastructure and institutional capacity for reformation of children in conflict with the law, but rather on providing retributive responses after the Delhi gang rape. The amendment has not only brought injustice to the children but has also caused distress and anguish in the victims who have failed to get justice.
Impact of the Amendment on Society
The amendment has resulted in a drastic change in the Juvenile Justice Act. The amendment has brought about a decline in the special protection given to children between 16 and 18 years of age. The amendment has also brought about an increase in the punishment for an offender above 16 years of age from 3 years to 2 years. The amendment has also made it mandatory for a ‘child’ above 16 years of age to be tried as an adult in heinous crimes. The amendment has brought about a decline in the special protection given to children. The act has made it mandatory for the Juvenile Justice Board to try an accused between 16 and 18 years of age as an adult. The amendment has also made it mandatory for the victims to file an application before the judge to try the accused as an adult. It looks like the law was bought by the legislature to stay with the line and provided a harsh trial for a juvenile, punishing him and satisfying the public demand. The legislature has given up the duty to protect children. Real social reforms that address the core issue of why children commit crimes or why there has been an increase in crime by children of the same age group are not envisaged, the law simply provides a way out and provides for harsher penalties.
Conclusion: A Step Forward or Backward?
Children are the country’s potential resource. The juvenile court system is based on the idea of social security and children’s rights. Reformation and recovery are the priorities of the justice system. It is about providing the child with an environment in which it can develop its personality. Finally, an attempt should be made to establish an equal culture at a high level. At this stage, we need to develop a strong system and effective implementation of juvenile justice.
Children who are not born delinquents are corrupted by a vicious welfare system and law without deterrence. A separate judicial process provided for under the Juvenile Justice Act can only succeed from the root if the observatory home is run with the greatest care and love. It is in this place that the greatest portion of the reformation of the child takes place. The current juvenile act is clearly not equitable in its implementation, and it is constrained by laws from the 19th century that could lead to children becoming adult offenders.
The provisions of the Criminal Justice Act are not only controversial, but also conflict with the ultimate goal of protecting fundamental rights. It is necessary to protect children under the age of 18 from the current situation and shield them from normal justice. Children in trouble with the law need safety, education, and treatment. Children are the future of the country; therefore, meaningful steps need to be taken to strengthen the structure of the juvenile justice system.