The many ‘heinous crimes’ that make a juvenile an adult

The Bill defines ‘heinous offences’ as those “for which the minimum punishment under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or any other law for the time being in force is imprisonment for seven years or more.”

Written by Shalini Nair | Published: December 25, 2015 3:32 am
The tears of the mother, Asha Devi, were not only the tears of a mother but a comment on our legal and justice system, particularly in view of the fact that the juvenile involved was said to be the most sadistic. (Illustration by: C R Sasikumar) The tears of the mother, Asha Devi, were not only the tears of a mother but a comment on our legal and justice system, particularly in view of the fact that the juvenile involved was said to be the most sadistic. (Illustration by: C R Sasikumar)

The discourse in the aftermath of the December 16 gangrape, about 16 to 18 year-olds accused of rape ‘deserving’ to be tried as adults, has propelled the passage of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015. However ‘heinous offences’ as defined in the legislation doesn’t merely encompass gruesome crimes such as rape and murder. Juveniles accused of counterfeiting, cheating, arson, kidnapping, causing grievous hurt, dacoity, burglary or committing theft in a building are all now liable to be tried as adults.

The Bill defines ‘heinous offences’ as those “for which the minimum punishment under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or any other law for the time being in force is imprisonment for seven years or more.”

The Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University, has compiled 21 such sections under IPC alone. It has also listed sections under other laws the juveniles can now be tried under. These include Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, Arms Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act and Food Safety and Standards Act.

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In all such cases, the Juvenile Justice Board can now refer a juvenile to a children’s court after a preliminary assessment. The children’s court, which is a sessions court, can then determine whether to subject him to the adult judicial system.

The NDPS Act, for instance, has several sections where the punishment is between 10 to 20 years in case of ‘contravention in relation to’ poppy straw, cannabis and psychotropic substances involving commercial quantity or for external dealings in certain kinds of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

“Juveniles can now be tried under NDPS. Theft in a building attracts seven years’ imprisonment, so does theft by a clerk or servant of property in possession of master or employer,” said Apoorva Shankar, an analyst with PRS Legislative Research.

Juveniles can be booked under IPC for ‘waging or attempting or abetting to wage war’ against the Government of India. Juvenile law expert Anant Asthana points out that trafficking, under IPC, attracts a jail term of minimum seven years.

“Several times, it is the children who are trafficked themselves or are children of commercial sex workers who get involved in trafficking,” said Asthana, adding that the law will brutalise already vulnerable juveniles. He added that in case of dowry deaths, where the entire family is booked, 16 to 18 year-olds in the family can now be booked. A juvenile, however, cannot be given death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

In all such cases, the principle of fresh start, where all past records of any child under Juvenile Justice System should be erased, will not apply.

Experts said this and several other provisions of the Act contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that requires countries to treat all children under 18 equally. In its report submitted earlier this year, the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development said subjecting juveniles to the adult judicial system would go against several articles in the Constitution.

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  1. Ashutosh Shukla
    Dec 25, 2015 at 6:43 am
    We tend to get mixed up with emotions and law. We have seen that law in case of Nirbhaya was weak and impotent and allowed the worst criminal to walk free. While our parliament was being adjourned day after day and was busy protesting intolerance and protecting the first family the time ran out for Nirbhaya's family. As it is we are never seeing as doing anything and now we will have endless debated about child and rights. Child is child as long as he remains a child but a person who rapes - murder- mutilates-commits financial irregularities ceases to be a child. Our legal system is slow -in- efficient -maybe corrupt and our law is old and lost relevance in most cases. Time to change and move on. India cant progress unless it puts a tab on criminals and nips terrorism- violence and crimes in the bud. From a nation which condones worst crimes let us become a nation which is intolerant towards the same Jai Hind
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      Rajesh
      Dec 26, 2015 at 9:37 am
      My biggest concern is that the judiciary wont have the balls to punish a juvenile severely. We already see it with the death penalty. There are plenty of very deserving people on death row, yet we hanged about 3-4 people in the last 15 years.
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        Rajesh
        Dec 26, 2015 at 9:35 am
        What? Alcohol concerns the physical well-being. Crimes concern the mental well-being. What kind of quack doctor are you?
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          M.L.Gupta
          Dec 25, 2015 at 5:18 am
          Are juvenile criminals born or made?
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            Dr Navajith
            Dec 25, 2015 at 9:17 am
            16-17yr can't vote because they are children. 16-17yr can't drink alcohol or even sometime 21 or 25 yr can't because they are not adult enough. 16-17yr cant give a consent or enter a contract without a guardian because they are minor. Can't even open their bank account alone. But when it comes to crime, 16-17yr's mind is as much as 'adult' an adult can be?
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