When Outrage Blinds Justice: Supreme Court Rejects Plea Against Lowering Juvenile Age

Aazeen F. Kirmani

The supreme court yesterday refused to hear a writ petition against juvenile justice bill which lowered the juvenile age from 18 years to 16 years stating that the issue did not come under the purview of public interest litigation and cannot be entertained unless filed by an aggrieved person.

The bill lowering the juvenile age for serious crimes like rape and murder to 16 years was passed as a consequence of outrage of Nirbhaya rape case of December 2012 in which the juvenile just months short of his 18th birthday had played the most nefarious role. At the time of its passing the bill had faced severe opposition for being against established scientific and legal evidence’. It had also been called a crime against kids.

However popular sentiment had prevailed and doom was spelled for thousands of children in India who would now be tried as adults beyond 16 years of age. This happened even as an adult convict of Nirbhaya case was allowed an atmosphere in jail conducive enough for him to state on camera (in documentary India’s Daughters) that women are responsible for rapes!

Ironically the juvenile responsible for the mammoth alteration in India’s juvenile justice system conveniently remained out of its purview. After jeopardizing the future of thousands of sixteen year old children for several generations to come the Nirbhaya juvenile was in December 2015 handed over to an NGO ‘secretly’ due to concerns over his security.

Three years in a reform home is no reason to believe that his savagery has been subsided or subdued.

Even as Nirbhay’s parents protested his release in disdain the Delhi government announced a one-time financial grant of Rs 10,000 and a sewing machine for him to start a tailoring shop.

All that remains now is a good luck party for him!

The legal debate that ensued from Nirbhaya incident has ended up in a loss-loss situation for everyone except the juvenile. The most vulnerable now are young sexual experimenters because the legal age for consensual sex still remains 18 years. That makes it extremely easy to charge a sixteen to eighteen year old for rape after indulging in consensual sex with him.

The other vulnerable group is of tribal, Dalit and Muslim children who are already politically disadvantaged.
Also among the vulnerable are sex workers. Under the old law a sex worker under eighteen was sent to a reform home whereas now a sex worker above sixteen shall be charged with prostitution which is as unfair as it gets because most of these kids are trafficked and working against their will.

If 16 years old are capable of committing responsible crime beyond scope of rehabilitation then they are certainly capable of marriage, voting, driving, drinking and giving consent for sex,. Why should commitment of crime be an exception?

The prodigious savagery of Nirbhaya juvenile is beyond any doubt. But his brutality is no reason to see the entire population of 16-18 year old kids in the same light as him. Are there not stray instances of 10 year old kids passing the high school examination or six year old chess masters. Is the age for appearing in high school lowered on the basis of these extraordinary children. Could this juvenile’s extraordinary brutality not have been treated as an exception?

Law has always been blind. But this bill is perhaps the first instance of such catastrophic blindness of law makers.