Bhubaneswar, Dec 2:
‘Save the Children’, an international agency working to protect the rights of children, has strongly opposed the move to lower age of juveniles from 18 years to 16 years.
“The proper implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act and other children protection schemes like the Integrated Child Protection Scheme are a prerequisite for tackling both crimes against children and by children. Clamouring for lowering of the age from 18 to 16 and harsher punishment is not the solution”, said Shireen Vakil Miller, Director, Advocacy and Policy, Save the Children.
Instead of giving in to uninformed public outrage and populism and taking the easier approach of reducing the juvenile age, the government should strengthen the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act so that young offenders are punished and, more importantly rehabilitated, she argued.
“The child protection system in the country also needs strengthening so that well entrenched rights and principles under the Constitution and the United Nations Child Rights Charter are protected and upheld’’, Vakil Miller added.
‘Save the Children’ has expressed surprise at the alleged U-turn made by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) on the issue. It is shocking that the WCD department, after consistently opposing lowering of juvenile age, has now prepared a Cabinet note that would seek punishment under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for juvenile offenders over 16 if they are convicted for heinous crimes like murder and rape, it said.
Accusing the government of misrepresenting data on crimes by juveniles, the organisation working for children has provided statistics to prove its point. Of the total crime offences of 23, 87,188 reported in India in 2012, just 27,936 were committed by children, it pointed out.
A total of 35,123 out of 44, 83, 36,000 children were arrested (not convicted) for these offences. Out of the total 2, 75,165 violent offences, children below the age of 18 committed 8779. Of these, 2856 were cases of murder and rape. The total number thus reduces to 1698 offences committed by children within the age range of 16-18 years in the whole of India, it said.
“It needs to be appreciated that, proportionately, children commit much less crimes in India compared to other countries and the existing legal apparatus and systems are adequate to deal with them, if enforced properly. Sending children to jail or subjecting them to harsher punishments or prolonged incarceration is definitely not the appropriate way to deal with juvenile crime. Judicial pronouncements from the apex court as well as from High Courts have been in constant confirmation of this experience,” a Save the Children press release issued on Monday said.
Younger offenders, particularly juveniles, only turn out to be hardened criminals in jails and for them the appropriate legal, correctional and rehabilitative processes are laid down under the JJ Act, 2000/2006. It has now been universally accepted that the treatment for juvenile in conflict with law must be restorative and reformative and not penal, the release said.