There has to be gradation of reforms; one glove does not fit all, Arun Mathur, chairperson, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, tells Mayura Janwalkar.
What do you think of the Delhi government’s proposal to examine lowering the age of juveniles in conflict with law (in cases of heinous crimes) from 18 to 15?
Instead of lowering the age, we can consider giving the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) the discretion to refer cases of heinous crimes like rape or murder to a sessions court to treat the accused like an adult. After examining the case, the sessions court can decide whether the accused should be tried as an adult or the case should be sent back to the JJB. Why change the international discourse on the age of a juvenile? But the law can certainly be revisited; no harm in that. There also has to be gradation of reforms; one glove does not fit all. A maximum three-year sentence may not be enough to reform every juvenile… In some cases, it may take six years. There ought to be more serious thought given to this.
Are the existing facilities and infrastructure sufficient?
There are many shortcomings in the juvenile justice system. In the JJB itself, the procedure of trial, the trainers and superintendents in observation homes need to get better… Instances like children trying to escape or resorting to violence are a reflection of not receiving the necessary facilities or vocational training. Recently it was reported that the juvenile accused in the December 16, 2012, gangrape case was lodged with a militant. There must have been a huge distortion. So much could go wrong.
A DCPCR’s study reveals most juveniles in conflict with law are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Do you think the onus is on the society to change that?
We have the right to free and compulsory education, yet we see thousands of children on the streets… Child labour is still prevalent. This shows our efforts are not enough. Even if it’s a street kid, we have to send the child to an MCD school… We made guidelines to prevent child abuse in 2013 and all institutions had to follow those. For example, when both parents of a child are construction workers, there are supposed to be crèches for them to leave their children. But if there are no crèches, some day they will find their child missing.
Is the government doing enough to tackle juvenile delinquency?
I have been pursuing the government to tell them that a lot more needs to be done. Guidelines for prevention of child abuse (2013) are not just guidelines, they are an order of the government. The guidelines provided the norms to be followed for protection of children, their transport and outdoor activities, ensuring that staff appointed in schools, juvenile homes have no criminal background, online security, education and awareness. But there is hardly any implementation. They were supposed to be reviewed annually but that too has not happened. It is not possible for the commission to ensure that, but we have been chasing various government departments over it.