Juvenile Delinquency is a violation of the law committed by a young adult which is not punishable by death or life imprisonment. It is the conduct of a juvenile which is characterized by antisocial behaviour that is beyond parental control and therefore subject to legal action. There are laws drafted for ‘unsound minds’ and ‘juvenile delinquents’ and amendments have been made for the same.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 had been passed by Parliament of India and amended the law applicable to juveniles in the age group of 16–18, with respect to Heinous Offences, allowing them to be tried as adults. This may not be true for certain individuals because the Intelligence quotient is dependent on the mental ability and not chronological age. What if there is a criminal mastermind among juveniles? What if there is a meek juvenile who committed a crime succumbing to the peer pressure in his environment? Thus, it is essential to engage in a sympathetic study of the juveniles with the help of Criminology and Restorative Justice which can aid the Criminal Justice system.
Increase in Juvenile Delinquency in India
The plight of children from poor families in India is increasingly getting worse over the years. The increase in population and rural/semi-urban/urban areas has lead to the growth of slums in cities which further aggravate the dehumanisation of children. This, in turn, is increasing the crime rates in India. The crime rates in various states have drastically increased. These helpless children reflect deeper social and economic evils including the problems of unemployment and poverty, family disorganisation and inadequate measures of social security.
The environment in which the juvenile stays is also very important as it moulds the juvenile to behave in a certain way which is imbibed through his/her upbringing. In the case of Subramanian Swamy and Ors. Vs. Raju, there was no justification for the crime committed as the juvenile had adequate knowledge about the heinous crime he had committed and hence shouldn’t be tried as a juvenile. The juvenile was also 17 years and 6 months old when he committed the crime and could have been considered as 18 years as the juvenile’s age does not define his mental ability and Intelligence Quotient. But we can try and decipher the factors that played a role in moulding the juvenile’s mind which will help in his rehabilitation as the juvenile is still at an impressionable age. The juvenile was brought up in a slum area in Delhi where he was exposed to a patriarchal society. He was also in companionship with men who indulged in habits like intoxication which definitely influenced him. The environment of a young adult influences his morality and might believe men are meant to be authoritative.
The increase of juvenile delinquency in India is not only because of issues that lead to juveniles committing but also because of an inefficient rehabilitation system which does not provide them with an opportunity to reintegrate with society after they have committed the crime. In The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, there is no provision for comprehensive rehabilitation programmes for the released inmates. It mentions after-care organisations which aren’t implemented properly. This narrow conception only serves as a function of social control, supervising for a short period and does not provide adequate provision for self- growth. Years of training in the Rehabilitation centres and heavy investment in them could go waste if there is no concrete planning on the re-entry of juveniles delinquent once released.
The emphasis on the study of the individual committing the crime provides an insight into the causes for such commission, which includes rejection of moral guidance from mentors, changes in the education policies, the unwillingness of many educationists, officials and judges to think of pupils or offenders as individuals, offending them and excluding them from school activities. The intensified crime rate in slums has also proved to be due to broken homes and overcrowding. Thus it is imperative to introduce a sympathetic study of the personality of the offenders.
Limitation of Criminology in Juvenile Delinquency
Criminal law has concentrated on questions of the criminal’s knowledge of what he was doing and his volition and not the reasons that led him/her to the commission of the crime. It is essential to study crime as a social phenomenon, its criminals, and penal treatment. Criminologists would study the crimes committed by the criminals, gather the required data, analyze it and provide actionable information and recommendations not only for implementation but also for rehabilitation. Criminal Justice focuses on the implementation of law rather than the rehabilitation. It would be ideal to set the procedures of the court based on the information extracted by criminologists. This would lead to not only lead to a more efficient judgement but also a speedy one. Thus, studies of the dynamics of crime should concentrate on the nature and dynamics of crime, its causes, and the character of criminals. The study of the criminal as a person is also essential, in matters such as decisions concerning probation or remission of sentence.
This induces the criminals to retrospect and determine for themselves whether the crime they committed was towards progress or not, positive or not. There is however two sides to the outcome, where some wish to learn and mend their ways, while some cease to understand. The individual, due to the prosecution of his/her crime, may either make a quick recovery and be a lesser burden to the community or maybe kept under guardianship and treatment for an indefinite period, if he poses a threat.
Relevance on Restorative Justice in Juvenile Delinquency in India
Restorative justice involves a voluntary process whereby the stakeholders in an offence or conflict or injustice come together, in a safe and respectful environment, with trained facilitators, and speak honestly about what happened during the commission of their crime and its impact on their lives. It clarifies accountability for the harms that have occurred and promotes reparation to derive positive changes for all involved.
Restorative Justice denounces criminal behaviour in order to reaffirm community values. This is done by including the community members who were affected by the crime to voice their opinions. The damage created by the crime is comprehended and the members arrive at a consensus on forward-looking outcomes. It identifies the factors that lead to the crime and encourage offenders to change and reintegrate into the community and simultaneously strategize to reduce crimes. The ultimate goal is to restore human dignity and reach closure.
Even though the main objective of Restorative Justice is to support victims by giving them a voice to express their needs, the offenders are protected as well. This is where Restorative Justice becomes important for juveniles as the delinquents are given an opportunity to acknowledge their responsibility for the harm caused and understand the effects of the offence on the victim. They receive support to repair the harm caused to the victim and the community. They require accountability that addresses harms and encourages empathy and responsibility.
Offenders are also perceived as victims as they have been traumatized by the justice system in many ways. Even though juveniles are supposed to be treated with care, they are stigmatized for their actions and treated like hardened criminals. Juveniles have to be perceived as victims as well since in some cases the crime may have been committed in response to an effort to undo a sense of victimization where violence is used as a way to achieve justice or undo injustice. It is also necessary to understand that perceiving one as a victim does not absolve them of their responsibility for committing the offence. But we cannot reduce or stop the offending behaviour unless the victimization is addressed and sometimes punishment reinforces the victimization. That was the primary purpose of not sending juveniles to prison and thus victimization must be addressed. Juveniles need to be treated with respect and humanity and their dignity must be acknowledged along with their crime.
Thus implementation of the Restorative Justice process in India would help in the reparation of the victims and reintegration of the victims and offenders in society. Restorative process means any process in which the victim, the offender and/or any other individuals or community members affected by a crime actively participate together in the resolution of matters arising from the crime, often with the help of a facilitator who is a fair and impartial third party. It is based on the assumption that all the members are voluntarily participating in the dialogue. The participation should not be used as evidence of an admission of guilt in subsequent legal proceedings.
This reduces repeat offenders, provides both victims and offenders with more satisfaction with justice than the criminal justice system may provide them, reduces the costs of criminal justice, when used as an alternative from the criminal justice system and reduces recidivism more than prison (adults) or as well as a prison (youths). Implementing Restorative Justice in India will provide victims with the Justice they holistically deserve.
Rehabilitation of a juvenile can be done with the Capability approach where he/she can extract his or her potentials or acquire new talents in order to reform their behaviour. The juvenile is a young adult and still has scope for improvement. S/he has to be given adequate opportunities to explore adult life. It is the lack of this ideology which is giving them the courage to commit crimes. It is essential to understand the juvenile’s thought process for it. Justice is not about getting even, but rather about getting well. Thus, the Restorative Justice System must be incorporated in the Criminal Justice system in order to ensure that there is efficient functioning Justice and avoid inequities.
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Priyadarshini hails from Christ University, Bangalore and she spends most of her time in debating, dancing and reading. Her Interest area lies in constitutional law and administrative law. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org