Should Juveniles Be Punished Like Adults for Committing Heinous Crimes?

It’s been more than four years since the fateful night of December 16 that saw five adult men and a juvenile commit one of the most gruesome rape and murder, which shook the collective conscience of a nation that woke up to the shocking truth of juvenile delinquency. The incident, which saw the juvenile delinquent commit unspeakable barbarisms on the helpless victim (in fact, he was the one who brutalised her with an iron rod), for the first time made the nation collectively demand that the juvenile be tried and punished like an adult for committing such an heinous crime. Since then, the nation has been demanding for a tougher amendment to the juvenile act. The argument — if they can commit a heinous crime as an adult, they can also be tried for the heinous act as an adult!

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Image source : Chitarkont

This becomes even more relevant if we look at the figures available. An overwhelming 33,000 juveniles (in the age group ranging from 16 to 18) were arrested in 2011 alone, on serious charges like rape and murder, according to a research study conducted by Sibnath Deb and discussed in Child Safety, Welfare and Well-being: Issues and Challenges. Of course, the numbers continue to rise at an unprecedented rate, which is why we need to seriously address the question — whether juveniles should be punished like adults for committing heinous crimes?

Well, in order to answer that question, we need to keep our emotions at bay and look at some hard and cold facts. The first and foremost, of course, is to take a look at the rest of the world and their take on juveniles and gruesome crimes.

Thus, let us speak of countries like UK and USA, who have recognised the culpability in case of heinous crimes, even when committed by juveniles. Thus, these juveniles are charged and tried as an adult. In fact, in one instance in Florida, even a 13-year-old boy was tried as an adult. Similarly, in England, a juvenile can be tried in an open court in case of exceptional offences like rape, sexual assault, murder, etc. Even in France, for example, there exists a separate Juvenile Assize to try juvenile offenders (aged 16 to 18 years) in case of serious offences.

The reason this becomes relevant is that all these countries named above are not just any other country…these countries are actually the front-runners when it comes to human rights and/or child rights. At least, the one thing we can never accuse these countries of is that they are lax when it comes to caring for their citizenry. Yet, these countries have adopted a characteristically practical approach when dealing with the issue of juvenile delinquency and in dealing with minors committing heinous crimes.

After all, the changed dynamics of childhood and adolescence have to be viewed against the backdrop of present times. We cannot let emotions rule practical thinking. And practical thinking states — if an offender can commit a heinous crime (while being completely aware of his/her actions), he/she needs to be tried and punished as an adult. This is especially important because we know that in a country like India, falsifying age records (to escape harsh punishment) is child’s play indeed (and pun, you bet, is intended)!

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