Infancy And Criminal Liability

Suraj Agarwal
Article By Suraj Agarwal | 2nd Year Law student at Bennett University, Greater Noida

Sections 82 and 83 of the Indian Penal Code outline infant criminal culpability. According to the provisions, activities committed by children who are not mature enough to understand the nature and consequences of their actions should not be regarded as crimes. The idea of juvenile justice was born out of the same foundation as the IPC. In most states, the age of criminal responsibility is 18 years. In India, the age of criminal responsibility was 18 years old until the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 took effect. The Delhi Gang Rape Case of 2012 sparked public unrest, prompting the law’s passage as mentioned above.

With the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015’s rapid enactment, the question arises as to whether India has violated the convention’s provisions as a signatory to the United Nations Child Rights Convention (UNCRC). Due to their low socio-economic status[1]Indian Express, 16 to 18: LS Passes Bill Redefining A Juvenile’s Age in Serious Crimes, May 8, 2015., it will be interesting to see how a massive number of offences that fall under the heinous crime category may lead to juveniles being tried for minor crimes.

After independence, the idea of handling juvenile delinquents independently from the mainstream criminal justice system first surfaced in the shape of the Children Act, 1960, which defined a “child” as a boy or girl under the age of sixteen or eighteen. It was only applicable to the UTs when the Children Act of 1960 went into effect 1960. As a result, each state had its jurisdiction over the topic, resulting in differences across the nation. Because of this, the Supreme Court expressed its wish for national legislation, except for J&K. This came to be known as the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986.

 

The Children Act of 1986 used a similar age definition for juveniles. In 1992, India ratified the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indian law adopts the CRC’s definition of a child as “any human being under the age of eighteen”[2]United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, Art. 1, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25.. In addition, the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 was amended in the wake of the 2012 gang rape that sparked public outcry. Judge J.S Verma’s recommendations for more vigorous enforcement of the current statute were ignored, as was the concept of lowering the age of criminal culpability for juvenile offenders. To deter crime and preserve victim rights, the government has reduced the age of criminal culpability. The Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) were also required to transmit cases to the courts for adult trials if the JJBs determined that the minors were mature enough. About the Amendment, it is alarming to see how quickly the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 deviates from the rehabilitationist and liberal objectives put forth and accepted by the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000.

Children under the age of 18 have weaker cognitive and decisional powers, according to the UNCRC’s Article 1. It says that children under 18 are more receptive to reforms and remedial measures than those beyond 18. All of the above justifies a separate juvenile justice system, notwithstanding the complex problem of determining the age of criminal immunity, which varies from 12 to 18 years in different nations.

According to scientific studies, a human’s cognitive and decision-making faculties are not fully matured until 18 years. Neurobiological maturity is acquired at varying ages, according to Steinberg. Some people reach it at 15, while others get it at 22. To resolve this paradox and protect the rights of both victims and juvenile offenders, the UNCRC and most nations have set the age of 18 as the minimum age for criminal culpability. Also known as the “presumptive age of majority”, 18 is considered the legal majority age. Under Article 1 of the UNCRC, the minimum age of criminal culpability for men was raised to 18 years in 2000. The Juvenile Justice Act of 2015, which lowered the age of criminal responsibility for heinous crimes from 18 to 16, violated Article 1 of the UNCRC, which stipulated that the minimum age for criminal culpability was 18.

According to UNCRC Article 2, “all state parties shall adhere to the principle of non-discrimination and ensure that all children in dispute with the law are handled similarly”. Article 2 is violated when children are mistreated because of their age and the type of crime they are accused of committing.”

 

Furthermore, the same Article mandates that all juvenile offenders be treated equally regardless of the nature of the crime they have committed. Still, the Juvenile Justice Act separates those who have committed heinous crimes from those who have committed non-heinous crimes.[3]United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, Art. 1, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25 (September 2,1990)This categorization and distinction violate the Constitution.

Clause 22 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, which states that “life imprisonment with the possibility of parole can be imposed on people beyond the age of 16,” also violates the UNCRC’s proposal to eliminate life imprisonment for those under the age of 18. It is apparent that the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, violates the normative objectives outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Another issue with the Amendment is the categorization of offences under the Heinous Crime Category. A ‘Heinous Offence,’ as defined in the Bill, is “any offence under the IPC or any other law in force, for which the punishment is a minimum of seven years of imprisonment.”[4]The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015The criteria used to determine whether a crime is Heinous or not include a large number of offences. Because the penalties for possession-based crimes under the NDPS Act are more significant than seven years, they will also fall within the heinous offence category. The wide-ranging nature of the heinous offence category, as well as the discretion to decide whether a case should be submitted to the courts or not, places juveniles from low-income families in a particularly vulnerable situation.

As the new juvenile legislation is being implemented, it is essential to remember that most juvenile delinquents have a low level of education. According to NCRB data, about 80% of juveniles in trouble with the law do not even have a matric pass. Children who commit crimes are not well educated, and reform and rehabilitation are preferable to dealing with them than putting them in the formal criminal justice system. The fact that the JJBs have the power to decide whether or not a matter should be moved to the courts is in and of itself a sort of injustice done to the minors.

A critical eye should also be cast on the Juveniles’ socio-economic background. Deprived people will permanently lose out when it comes to being tried in court or not because they will never be able to turn the tables in their favour and will be the ultimate victims of crimes for which they did not even want to commit them. Youths who live in poverty will perpetuate bias towards others who are less fortunate, creating a significant rift in society. Determining how many juvenile offences qualify as heinous offences needs to be re-examined, as it harms them, even when the offence is not significant, or they were not aware of it.

Child criminal culpability is protected by the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The law never aims to punish individuals who lack the necessary men’s rea for committing a crime. Being in contradiction with several fundamental foundations of the Constitution, the Juvenile Justice Act (2015) fails its primary goal: to provide minors with defence for infancy under sections 82 and 83 of the Constitution.

Finally, as the saying goes, “justice rushed is justice buried,” and lawmaking is a vital component of the judicial system and stricter implementation of the old laws would have better served the current demands.

This article was written by Suraj Agarwal, a 2nd Year student at Bennett University, Greater Noida. He may be reached at thesurajagarwal@yahoo.com. The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of Hello Counsel.

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References

References
1 Indian Express, 16 to 18: LS Passes Bill Redefining A Juvenile’s Age in Serious Crimes, May 8, 2015.
2 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, Art. 1, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25.
3 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, Art. 1, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25 (September 2,1990
4 The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015

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