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Juvenile Justice Bill: Harsh Laws Fail as Deterrents

The hurried manner in which the bill was passed does not bode well for the health of legislature in times to come.

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The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, amidst a charged atmosphere, has been passed in the Rajya Sabha and is set to become a law soon. The hurried manner in which the pending bill has been passed does not bode well for the health of legislature in times to come. All that is wrong with Indian polity and governance can be seen in this crucible of passing the JJ Bill. We run amok in the heat of emotions. We believe in quick fixes. We support or oppose policies not on merit but only for the heck of it. We take pride in being ‘Dilwale’, no matter how injurious to brain such stances are.

The hurried manner in which the bill was passed does not bode well for the health of legislature in times to come.
The juvenile convict in the 16 December gangrape case. (Photo: Reuters/Altered by The Quint)

The December 2012 gangrape in Delhi jolted the conscience of our country, or at least so was surmised. Suddenly we saw a flurry of “women’s issues” discourses splashed across national newspapers, channels and various popular culture media. Knee jerk reactions, baying for blood and misplaced sense of solidarity defined the charged atmosphere in the aftermath of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s brutal rape and murder. The recent high pitched opera, complete with midnight theatrics, on the release of the youngest convict from the observation home was an extension to all that. The questions that ought to have been raised have either been hushed, or have remained in the periphery of discourse.

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Snapshot

Juvenile Justice Bill

  • The hurried manner in which the bill was passed does not bode well with the health of the legislature.
  • The questions asked during December 2012 gangrape have remained in the periphery of discourse.
  • The youngest convict in this case is being given a chance at reformation.
  • No criminal record will trail the now free youngest convict as per the provisions in the JJ Act.
  • History of crime tell the disturbing tale of harsh laws failing as deterrents.
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Yes, crimes committed by juveniles are on the rise. Yes, they are capable of unleashing horror upon their victims. Yes, our children are maturing faster than ever before given the world they inhabit. Yes, organised crime circuits take advantage of the fact that juvenile criminals go scot free even if they are apprehended. Yes, there is a need to look at juvenile crimes in a disaggregated manner. Yes, the laws are required to be in sync with the times. Yet, none of the above can be allowed to overrule the restorative nature of justice that guides our jurisprudence.

The hurried manner in which the bill was passed does not bode well for the health of legislature in times to come.
Activists along with Nirbhaya’s mother protest against the release of juvenile delinquent in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI/Altered by The Quint)

The youngest convict in this case is being given a chance at reformation. The concern that needs to be raised here is how to ensure that he does not descend into the nadir of depravity again. This eventuality promises to be a shattering defeat of not only our legal system but the society at large. He needs to be monitored closely for his own safety and that of the ones around him. Unfortunately, this is where the system fails all and sundry badly. The very fact that a repeat offender could work his way around the verification processes and manage to rape the woman who hailed his Uber cab shakes our ever dwindling faith in efficiency and intent of our government agencies. The suggestion that the ‘juvenile’ in the Jyoti Singh case wasn’t a juvenile, except on papers, rattles us even more. This is what our energies should be spent on: the zero error and zero tolerance implementation of our laws.

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The hurried manner in which the bill was passed does not bode well for the health of legislature in times to come.
A protester lights candles during a candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape. (Photo: Reuters)

No criminal record will trail the now free youngest convict as per the provisions in the JJ Act. Will this tabula rasa again see a script of horrors inked in blood and gore? Let us not sympathise with this young man, or try to rationalise his deeds by pegging them on his difficult circumstances. However, let us also not keep insisting on bringing harsher laws when the implementation of even the existing ones can’t be ensured. The silent screams in history of crime tell the disturbing tale of harsh laws failing as deterrents while strict implementation of even Gandhigiri fetching the desired results.

(The writer is Associate Fellow (Gender) at Observer Research Foundation)

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