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Himanshi Dhawan, TNN | Sep 21, 2013, 01.28AM IST
NEW DELHI: After doggedly turning down arguments for having a graded response to crimes by juveniles, depending on the gravity of their crime and the juvenile's age, the government is finally coming around to the view the juveniles above 16 years involved in heinous crimes, like murder or gang rape, should be tried as adults under the Indian Penal Code.
The change in the outlook of the women and child development (WCD) ministry has happened after a series of consultations with experts and after looking at the practice in developed societies. Now the WCD ministry has firmed up its view that juveniles in the age bracket of 16 to 18 years committing heinous crimes should not have the protection of theJuvenile Justice (JJ) Act.
Explaining the change in the WCD ministry's view, an official source said, "There is an increasing trend of offenders arrested for crimes like gang-rape and murder seeking lower punishments on the plea that they have not yet reached 18 years of age." The Nirbhaya case apart, the Mumbai Shakti Mills gang rape and a recent gang rape in Guwahati have stood out for the involvement of juveniles in the heinous crime.
Several developed countries, including the UK, US and France, adopt a graded response to heinous crimes by juveniles. Around 20 US states allow them to be tried as adults. For instance, in Florida a 13-year-old boy, accused of beating a half-brother to death while sexually abusing another aged five, was charged as an adult in 2012.
In The UK, a person under 17 (the cut-off for juveniles there) can be tried as adult in serious offences like sexual assault, child sex offences and sexual activity withy a child family member. France has a separate Juvenile Assize court to deal with serious offences committed by minors in the 16-18 age bracket.
In India, the juvenile irrespective of the nature of his crime is protected by the JJ Act under which heinous crimes like murder and gang-rape attracts a maximum punishment of a three-year term in a reformatory. In its study, the WCD ministry has also found that the term in reformation homes doesn't necessarily lead to behavioural correction in juveniles.
In July, the Supreme Court had rejected petitions for lowering the age of juvenility from existing 18 years, turning down the demand in the wake of a 17-year-old's involvement in the brutal gang-rape of Nirbhaya. However, the SC recently said that it would examine whether juvenility should be considered on a case to case basis keeping in view the maturity of the offender and the heinousness of the crime.
According to information complied by a leading child rights NGO, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, the age of criminal responsibility ranges from 6 years in the US to 18 years in Belgium. In Canada, youth aged between 14 to 17 years may be tried as adults under certain conditions. In some US states, heinous cases that meet certain criteria may be transferred to criminal court upon the authorization of the juvenile court judge.
In most American states, the jurisdiction of juvenile courts is automatically waived when a juvenile above a certain age, usually 13 or 15, commits a violent or other serious crime, and the case is automatically transferred to adult court.
The minimum age for criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years. The Crown Court can sentence children between 10 and 18 years for 14 or more years' imprisonment for adult offenders. The young offenders are, however, not placed in prison alongside adults, but can be placed in secure training centres, secure children's homes, or young offenders' institutions.