Juveniles shouldn’t be tried as Adults
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
BY-Sneha Sudhakar (Central University of South Bihar)
During Donald Trump Albuquerque rally’s riot, a 14-year-old boy Marcus Griego was caught and accused of throwing rocks at cops. He had been charged with a penal of aggravated battery and called to be tried as an adult. Supporting it, a police spokesperson quoted that, “Despite setting an example out of a 14-year, they wanted to guide him and lead him within the right direction”. Disagreeing his comment the accused Attorney asserted that trying a toddler as an adult “would be a totally different scenario than one where they’re not trying to destroy this child.”
This picture accentuates the prevailing legal dimension and construction of adolescent criminality, a significant aspect of our criminal justice system. In legal terms, a word for a child is “juvenile” and its dictionary meaning is a young person. Section 2(K) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 defines a juvenile as a person who has not completed the eighteenth year of age.
EVOLUTION OF TERM “JUVENILE”
The status of “Juvenile” has its prolonged history. It gains its actuality during the Progressive Era, reign of 1880-1920, and the first time appeared in the United States judicial system. And, there are no distinct views which were at hand which separates a boy’s and a man’s criminality. Teens committing offences were called “miniature adults” and hence tried and punished as adults but the headway to medical sciences advanced the understanding of child development and gave a more compassionate approach to the development of Juveniles Theory.
The Progressive Era often called “Golden age in Juveniles history”, was that period when the subsequent rise in urbanization created an imbalance in social organization and structure which shattered thousands of children’s lives over the streets where they got indulged themselves in criminal activities due to inadequacy of obtainable options. The personality of a being reflects from its upbringing and the environment provided to them. Adolescents adapt and nurture themselves consistent with the encompassing and thereafter live in that way. This is often the stage when they grasp things at its utmost capability and likely to adjust with their society rapidly. Due to the absence of distinct laws, the jail-population got mixed up with these kiddies and gave birth to the criminal faces of the upcoming hour. Realizing its devastating end, separate Juvenile court system and accompanying correctional institutions were established, based on “English Bridewell Institutions” which emphasized the teaching of life skills. The motive behind its adoption was to educate and rehabilitate them in such a way that moral standards could replace their existing criminal minds. “The Juvenile laws came for their reformation instead of retribution”.
The state has been credited with the status of Parens Patriae and ended with broad discretion over juvenile cases. Well said by Lord Acton that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Due to the evolution of society, during the late 20th Century, The subsequent rise in violent crime rates shifted the Political emphasis to being tough on crime and juveniles began to be tried as adults.
TOUGH ON CRIME: Adult Time for Adult Crime
Every state has acquired different views on the treatment of juveniles. All nations have defined the “upper age of majority” and if any offences will be committed by the individual who is under certain ages as specified in the law of the land will automatically come within the jurisdiction of the adult criminal court but it is to be distinguished from the cases originally originated in Juvenile court but its jurisdiction has been waived to the adult criminal court and it can be “waived” by Judicial waiver, Prosecutorial discretion, or statutory rule.
Talking about Indian Juvenile Rule, here the “upper age of majority” is 18 years. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 powers the Juvenile Justice Board to conduct inquiries with minors to decide the offences committed by them and allow them to go home after advice or admonition. The board can also order them to perform community services, can appoint a legal guardian or place under a fit institution or a special home for a maximum of three years. They have also the discretion to place Juveniles, aged 16 or above, who have committed a heinous crime in an institution called ‘Place of safety’ for their rehabilitation but on December 16th, year 2012, the dreadful incident of “Nirbhaya Delhi gang rape” where a 23-years old physiotherapy student was brutally assaulted and raped in a moving bus in the Indian Capital Delhi jiggled the entire Nation and the involvement of a juvenile of 17-and-a-half years old outraged the public demand of stricting Anti-rape laws and penalizing juveniles.
In support of the mass demand, Indian Parliament amended the existing Juvenile Protection law and introduced a new law, that is, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 which allows Juvenile between 16 and 18 years of age to be tried as adults for serious crimes like rape and murder after examining the mental capacity of the accused.
But is it a good idea? “Isn’t it a response of baying of the mob rather than reason?” Are Emotions more valued in the Indian judicial system than the facts? Proponents of the bill supported the claims by giving the fact that the level of crimes by juveniles are on the rise, but of course not! Out of 472 million children in our country, only 1.2% committed crimes in 2013 and none of them had repeated it and of all the children apprehended for crimes under Indian Penal code in 2013, 2.17% were accused of murder and 3.5% were accused of rape. There were minimal number of cases where juveniles were indulged in heinous crimes, then is it justifiable to question the liberties of millions of faces because of the chosen few. It’s always a bad idea to make a sweeping law for just one case. If a child in the age of playing and reading is committing crimes, there is a big reason which forces him to do so, enacting stricter laws could never stop these things instead it only could witness “a public spectacle of individual’s death”. “How a Child in need of care and protection turns into a juvenile offender is the story of how society and its institutions have let him alone”.
The twist in the fact is that the existing law “JJA-2000” was never implemented properly and it has been amended so that ‘Justice could prevail’ – Isn’t it Ironical? In the amended Juvenile Justice Act the essence of the Act “Philosophy of Parens patriea” has been scrapped and apart from this, its nature has amended from reformative to retributive which was, of course, not the motive of the establishment of the juvenile system. The consideration behind this was not to punish but to develop and reform. There is a thin line between “leading a juvenile in the right direction” and “destroying the child” and this reformation has led to the destruction of the most innocent creature of this earth.
IMPACT ON JUVENILES SENTENCED IN ADULT CRIMINAL COURT
The increase in laws that allows juveniles to be tried in adult criminal court rather than juvenile was enacted and implemented on the opinion that it will serve as a deterrent for rising youth violent crimes, but are they fulfilling the formula? Are Juveniles who have been prosecuted under the adult court system be deterred from future crimes? Various studies in America shows that “children transferred to adult criminal justice system commit more serious offences later in life compared to those tried in the juvenile system” quoted by Enakshi Ganguly Thakurta, co-director of HAQ Centre for child rights. Surveys of more than 15 nations revealed that juveniles prosecuted in adult courts are more likely to re-arrest than the adults' counterparts. Juveniles prosecuted under JJ-system benefitted from the programs and resources available for their rehabilitation and education and could lead to a better life because of availability of opportunity to acquire critical skills and experiences which are crucial but if they are locked up with adult criminals they would prepare themselves for a life career in criminality by making them as their teachers.
One reason to commit crimes by a juvenile is their less impulse control which is the significant reason for its prevalence of Anti-social and delinquent behavior. Psychological researches claim that children, especially teenagers, act more irrationally and immaturely than adults. Studies further confirmed that stressful situations only heightened the risks that emotion, rather than logical thought, which guides the choices children make. They are immature, indisciplined, and are not strong enough emotionally. Supreme Court understood this and in Roper v. Simmons, Justice Kennedy wrote: “any sociological studies tend to confirm that children possess a lack of maturity, an underdeveloped sense of responsibility and take impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions”. If they are not grown up they should not be treated as one.
This very basis of the amended Act is unconstitutional and violative of fundamental right to equality under Article 14 of the Indian constitution and Article 15(3) which allows special laws for marginalized sections of society which includes children. The criminality of a child will be decided by the mechanism of intelligible differentia, that is, by analyzing the physical and mental capacity to commit a crime as well as the ability to understand the consequences of the offense which is not an accurate assessment because of its subjective nature and the give enormous scope for arbitrariness.
In India, there exists a unique problem of unsure of age, where we are not sure of the accused age. This means that we are adjudicating for 16-years old kid and end up punishing a 15-year old child. This is not new, it is a prevalent practice available in India and the laws make no allowances for this. Here, a teen below 18 years can’t drive, can’t vote, can’t inherit property – but could be treated as an adult and sent into an adult prison. Ironical! Isn’t it? This act could predominantly affect the country’s poor and marginalized sections. Because of the unavailability of the cheap education system, they are even not able to receive secondary level education and due to less knowledge, they entre in the criminal world. They need training, education rather than punishment.
India already had certain laws for Child protection but it never has been implemented sufficiently. All the laws have been marred by insufficient investments, lack of adequate numbers of Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB), Child Welfare Committees (CWC), and lack of institutions like Special Care homes and monitoring mechanism. Instead of implementing the existing provisions, the government is retreating from his responsibility by holding the children responsible for their ill-behaviors and the failure of the juvenile rehabilitative system. The Government should amend the system in place of prevailing laws that victimize children.
The reason behind the establishment of the Juvenile court system was that the society of that time recognizes that the juveniles don’t have the cognitive development that adults have so rather punishing them correction would be more beneficial. In accordance with that rehabilitative services were used to be given. But the shifting of sociological and political ideologies, the attitude of tough on crime because of increasing crime rate transferred the Juvenile to the adult court system but these policies failed to attain the scenario and the crime rate is still going on.
This bill has been passed to enhance the safety of the women and to serve as a deterrent to crimes by juveniles but the purpose is not solving. It has taken the rights of one group of people to give justice to another and in this way, the objective can’t be achieved. Juveniles need resources that equip them to succeed rather than face the devastating face of the adult prison system. They should be treated as Juveniles in the Juvenile justice system, where the focus has been given on rehabilitating rather than punishing.
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