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Will juvenile rapists and murderers be tried as adults?

After repeatedly refusing to do anything about the juvenile conundrum when it came to severe cases, the government is finally waking up to the reality that juveniles above 16 who are tried for heinous crimes like murder or gang rape should be treated as adults under the Indian Penal Code. The Women and Child (WCD) Ministry has now taken the view that young adults in the 16-18 age group shouldn t be protected by the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA). An official source told TOI, 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. Recent rapes involving juveniles including the Delhi gang rape, the Mumbai Shakti Mills gang rape and a recent incident in Guwhati all had under-18s involved.

Most developed nations including the UK, US and France have laws which allow them to treat juveniles who ve committed horrible crimes as adults. In the UK, a person under 17 (the cut-off there) can be tried as an adult for serious offences like sexual assault. France also has a separate court to deal with offences by minors in the 16-18 age group. (It's time to change our juvenile laws)

In India however, irrespective of the nature of the crime, all people under 18 are protected under the Juvenile Justice Act. In July, the Supreme Court rejected petition for lowering the age of juvenility after the involvement of the 17-year-old in that brutal Delhi gang rape incident. The court did say recently that juvenility should be considered on a case to case basis keeping in mind the maturity of the individual and the nature of the crime.

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Is a juvenile unfit to understand the ramifications of his action?

Developmental paediatrician Dr Leena Deshpande says that it s simply not possible that a juvenile is incapable of understanding what he is doing. A normal child s thoughts usually become more organised in the 11-16 years phase. By the time he/she reaches the age of 16, the person is perfectly capable of understanding the ramifications of their actions and what they re doing, she says. So from a medical and psychological point of view, 16 is an age where a person has reached a level of maturity. Dr Deshpande also added that considering the current social climate and the things children are being exposed to, more and more children are behaving and talking like adults and there is a need to re-think the juvenile age.

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