New Delhi, 24th September, 2013: Apne Aap Women Worldwide committed to work towards the empowerment of girls and women today organized its third session of ‘Terrace Talks’ at their head-office at India International Centre, New Delhi. The talk was chaired by Advocate Anant Kumar Asthana, child rights lawyer, in Delhi High Court. The discussion revolved around ‘Juvenile Justice, Rape and Death Penalty’.
The interactive session was organized to reach out to law students, academicians and activists to discuss the relevance of existing Juvenile Justice System and Law in the background of 16 Dec Gang Rape Incident and involvement of a juvenile in it. According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, crimes committed by juveniles constitute only 1.1% of total crimes reported in the year 2012 while for the same period, the juvenile delinquency in England and Wales was 15% of total crime. Total offences reported in Crime in India in 2012 were 23,87,188. Out of these, a miniscule 27,936 offences were committed by children. Total 35,123 out of 44,83,36,000 children in India were arrested (not convicted) for these offences. Out of the total 2,75165 violent offences, children below the age of 18 committed 8779 violent offences. Of these 2856 were relating to Murder and Rape. The total number reduces to 1698 offences which were committed by children within the age range of 16-18 years in the whole of India.
The session further delved around the context of the current debate to ensure severe punishment is meted out when it is a case of serious offence. But the question that needs to be answered is should we actually change the juvenile justice laws even though the Indian figures of juvenile crime are miniscule.
The trial of the juvenile who has been booked for the gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old woman in the high profile December 16, 2012 rape incident has brought the juvenile justice system in India under the scanner again. The teenager was 17 at the time of incident.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data figures reveal the rise in the number of juvenile criminals across the country, but another alarming fact that has come out is that the age of offenders has also plummeting. The point to be highlighted is that these are nominal figures in the context of the total population and the need to change the law is not justified. This view has been upheld by Indian Supreme Court in August 2013 in Salil Bali Case. This raises concerns as to if youngsters are not afraid of committing crimes due to a rather lenient juvenile justice system? Or is it so because the juvenile justice administration system and correctional facilities are not fully equipped to ‘reform’ the convicted teens?
Participating in the discussion, Dr. Abhilasha Kumari, Director Apne Aap Women Worldwide said, “We feel society has to take responsibility. There should be a space where people are allowed a chance to reconnect with society. What is `that age’ when a person can take responsibility of his/her actions? Yes, people should be held responsible for the crimes they commit but isn’t society equally responsible for creating context which turns them into juveniles. This is often overlooked.”
Juvenile convicts are handled by Juvenile Justice Boards, which are supposed to provide care and create an environment that enables young people to reclaim an active and meaningful social life. But no such system is currently visible, however well articulated it may be in the law.
Elucidating on the juvenile justice laws, Anant Kumar Asthana highlighted despite the juvenile justice law prohibiting adult treatment of children, the practice of police showing children as adults and causing arrest and incarceration in adult jails continues unabated across the country. Speaking at the session, he said “Before we blame children, we need to retrospect as to what we do to our children. We can’t be an active doer of wrongs against our children and then ask for punishing children for their deviancy. First you give what children are entitled to and only then you get a right to question them. As of now we all have no moral right to be arrogant. We are all collectively guilty of betraying our children.”
He further added, “Where is the question of holding them accountable? Society and adults have to share responsibility.” He said that the understanding that by incarcerating children in jails and by subjecting them to severe adult like punishments, offences by children will reduce is misplaced and in fact this will be counterproductive as more and more children will be then loosing opportunities to reform.
The session concluded with the audience discussing various measures to implement the much needed juvenile justice reforms.
About Anant Kumar Asthana –
Anant Kumar Asthana, as a lawyer has earned the reputation of being one of the country’s most trusted authorities on a number of causes he has championed, particularly in the area of child rights protection. Asthana’s recent case resulted in a landmark Judgment in 2012 from the Delhi High Court directing Police to stop treating juveniles as adults. Due to this judgment, Jails of Delhi are searched every month by a team of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and those who appear to be juveniles, are referred for age inquiry. The Delhi High Court’s recent direction to the Delhi Government to frame guidelines for the prevention of sexual abuse of children was prompted by Asthana’s petition. Having graduated with a law degree from Aligarh Muslim University in 2007, Asthana got his training in activism from Tibetan poet and freedom fighter Tenzin Tsundue and learnt the nuances of public interest litigation from senior advocate Colin Gonsalves.