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Young & Wild

NCRB data shows that the rate at which juveniles are held guilty of crimes is much higher than the conviction rate for adults. As many of them are between 16 and 18 years, they are often tried as adults  

By Dr Swati Jindal Garg

In a recent event, a 17-year-old teenager allegedly rammed his car into shoppers at a crowded weekly market in East Delhi’s Mayur Vihar, killing a woman and injuring six. Owning to the nature of the crime, the Delhi Police is all set to write to the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) to try him as an adult.

The teenager decided to take the car out for a spin with a friend while his parents were out of town, but he did not know how to drive. As the boy neared the crowded market, he suddenly lost control of the Hyundai Aura and barreled into food carts and shoppers, killing the woman and injuring six. Both the boys were apprehended. The boy claimed that he felt extremely nervous on being surrounded by a vandalising crowd and in order to avoid them, he “kept on driving and eventually ended up hitting several persons”. A case under IPC Sections 279 (rash driving or riding on a public way), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 304 (culpable homicide) has been registered. 

The CCTV footage shows the vehicle accelerating and hitting more shoppers and a vegetable vendor and eventually crashing into a bangle shop and a cloth shop. After halting for a few seconds, the car reversed and sped away. Passers-by later stopped the car, beat up the boy and vandalised the vehicle. Even though the police lodged a case under the IPC section of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against unknown persons, they are also considering writing to the JJB to try the teenager as an adult.

Normally, a person below the age of 18 is a child and tried as a juvenile under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. However, there are cases where the severity of the punishment as prescribed under the Act fails to justify the acts of the juvenile offender, in which case, the Act provides that he may be tried as an adult.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which replaces the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, provides for trying juveniles in the age group of 16-18 as adults in cases of heinous offences. The amended Act takes into consideration issues that are necessary to deal with delinquent and orphaned children. It introduces circumstances and procedures for trying juveniles in conflict with law and also those who are involved in heinous offences as adults. 

The Act was passed taking into consideration the standards prescribed by various conventions and rules prescribed by the United Nations with respect to the rights of children, their protection and administration of justice. Even though the primary objective of the Act is to ensure the general care and protection of children by reforming them and reintegrating them into society, post the Nirbhaya case, a case was made out for more stringent punishment for juveniles involved in serious crimes. Later, the legislature amended the Juvenile Justice Act to adequately address crimes committed by the juvenile offenders.

It is understandable that a case pertaining to juvenile offenders cannot merely be decided on the basis of the age, but it should also take into consideration the heinousness of the offense committed by him. The amendment introduced the concept of heinous crimes and the procedure for trying juveniles caught committing heinous crimes.

The Act categorises the offences committed by children into three categories:

  • Petty offences—these include offences for which the maximum punishment under the IPC or any other law is imprisonment up to three years.
  • Serious offences—these include offences for which the punishment under the IPC or any other law is imprisonment between three and seven years.
  • Heinous offences—these include offences for which the minimum punishment under the IPC or any other law is imprisonment for seven years or more.

Section 15 of the Act further provides that in case a heinous offence is alleged to have been committed by a child who has completed 16 years, the Board shall conduct a preliminary assessment regarding his mental and physical capacity to commit such an offence, along with his ability to understand the consequences and the circumstances in which the alleged offence was committed.

Under the Juvenile Justice Act, offenders are referred to remand homes for three years and upon release, their criminal records are deleted to ensure that the juvenile can be restored to society. It was, however, noticed that considering the grave nature of offences committed by juveniles and the protection sought under the Juvenile Justice Act, the level of punishment did not meet the gravity of the crimes committed. Sometimes the nature of the crime committed was such that it was difficult to conceive that the juvenile offender was not aware of the consequences of his action. These include offences such as murder and rape. It was felt that the Juvenile Justice Act adopted a lighter touch for those below 18 years even though the crime committed was punishable severely under the IPC. Taking into consideration these shortcomings, the concept of trying a juvenile above 16 as an adult came into being.

Under the Act, the state government shall constitute a JJB in every district which shall comprise of a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of First Class or a Chief Judicial Magistrate with at least three years’ experience and two social workers of whom at least one is a woman. The Board’s responsibility is to recognise whether the offending child can commit a heinous offence and whether he understands the consequences of the offence committed. The Board must complete its assessment within three months from the date of the child being produced before it. After the assessment, if the Board concludes that the juvenile offender has committed the crime with the knowledge and intent required to commit a heinous offence, then it may order transfer of the case to the Children’s Court. This Court shall then determine whether there is a need for trying the child as an adult under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 or not.

There have been multiple instances since the passing of the Juvenile Justice Act wherein the JJB has accepted requests to try juveniles aged over 16 years as adults. Recently, a 17-year-old juvenile who brutally murdered a man in Jahangirpuri and recorded a video of the incident was tried as an adult. Investigators said the accused, along with two of his associates, had randomly killed the man and wanted to upload the murder video on a social networking site to become famous.

In another case of juveniles being tried as adults, three students of Class 9 were caught by the police for allegedly sodomising a 12-year-old Class 8 student of a government school. In another case, an eight-year-old student was murdered in the toilet of a Gurugram private school by a 16-year-old boy, an 11th grader in the same school.

In Gurugram alone, 25 juveniles were tried as adults in 2017, about 22% of the 114 apprehended by the police that year. The number increased to 38 (of 132) in 2018. In 2016, 13 juveniles were tried as adults, 15.47% of the total 84 who were apprehended. While there is no specific data available on how many children between 16 and 18 years have been tried as adults in India as

a whole, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports show that a large number of juveniles apprehended for crimes are between 16 and 18 years old. NCRB report of 2020 shows that 76.2% of the juveniles in conflict with law (26,954 out of 35,352) arrested during 2020 were between 16 and 18 years. In 2019, the percentage was 74%. According to the NCRB data, the rate at which juveniles are held guilty is much higher than the conviction rate for adults. In 2020, 91.4% of the juveniles accused were held guilty.

Whether this will deter them from committing offences remains to be seen. 

—The writer is an Advocate-on-Record practicing in the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court and all district courts and tribunals in Delhi

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