With reference to Juvenile Delinquency in India, explain Criminal Responsibility and Criminal Majority while highlighting key issues around them in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

Criminal responsibility refers to accuser’s mental capacity to understand the charges against him and may have no knowledge of the crime. It is concerned with capacity of a person to engage in criminal conduct.
Criminal majority refers to the process whereby a person was held answerable for such conduct. 
In order to address various issues related to juvenile justice system, the juvenile justice act 2000 was amended and the new law was brought in with Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The provisions of the act include

  • The Act defines and classifies offences as petty, serious and heinous, and defines differentiated processes for each category. To address the increasing number of serious offences being committed by persons in the age group of 16-18 years and recognizing the rights of the victims as being equally important as the rights of juveniles, special provisions are incorporated in the Act to tackle heinous offences committed by individuals in this age group.
  • The new law gives the Juvenile Justice Board the power to assess whether the perpetrator of a heinous crime aged between 16 and 18, had acted as a ‘child’ or as an ‘adult.’ The board will be assisted in this process by psychologists and social experts.

Issues with respect to the act:

  • The law defines Child as per UNCRC resolution as any one below age of 18 years but adds a provision under which 16-18years can be tried as adult if crime was committed with a ‘adult-like’ mind which would be determined by the Juvenile justice board. This is contentious because it brings out the differentiation among children.
  • Also scientific studies put forward the children below 18 years of age doesn’t have a bent of mind to determine what is right or wrong for them. 
  • In Indian context lack of psychologists and social experts coupled with social pressure may result in the juvenile getting an unfair treatment.
  • The differentiation is also questioned to be violation of article 14 which promotes equality and article 21 which demands the procedure established by law to be fair. Further, experiences across the world have shown that treating a child as adult and putting him in jails along with other hardened criminals increases his/her chances of becoming even a greater criminal.

The efficacy of new law will be determined by how strong is the government’s resolve in effectively structuring the juvenile justice boards.

Question for UPSC Mains:
With reference to Juvenile Delinquency in India, explain Criminal Responsibility and Criminal Majority while highlighting key issues around them in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. {150 words, 10 Marks}

Published: April 21, 2018 | Modified:June 27, 2019

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