CBI charges against Class XI boy for Pradyuman Thakur murder has brought Juvenile Justice Act back under scrutiny

A 16-year-old child's suspected involvement in the murder of a seven-year-old schoolboy, Pradyuman Thakur, in Gurugram's Ryan International School murder case has brought the much-debated Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 back into focus. While the incident can undoubtedly lead to much outpouring of public anger over the child's suspected role in the gruesome killing, there is a need for some perspective.

The Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 was passed during the stormy winter session of Parliament that year, amid a sentiment that brutal crimes committed by minors should be met with serious punishment. This was the view that was echoed not just by many ordinary people, but by some experts on criminal justice, such as IPS officer Kiran Bedi.

File image of Ryan International School. News18

File image of Ryan International School. News18

Consequently, many would believe that in cases such as the murder of Pradyuman, the suspected child offender will 'not be allowed to get away.' However, the law may not necessarily take a harsh view of the child. The Act mandates that the individual role of the child and the heinous nature of the crime (or lack thereof) needs to be considered, and not just the crime per se.

The Juvenile Justice Rules, 2016 – in which the manner in which cases of children in conflict with the law are to be handled is fleshed out – also states that the Juvenile Justice Board should take into consideration whether the offence by the child was committed 'under the control of adults'.

Thus, the law is expected to take a lenient view of the child if he has committed an offence as part of a group of adults, or if adults have instigated him into doing so.

Further, the board is expected to decide if the child had the mental and physical capacity to commit such an offence, whether she/he can understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which the crime was committed. Thus, children cannot be tried as adults, merely on the grounds that they physically committed the crime 'like an adult would'.

The anguish of the murdered schoolboy's parents is certainly understandable. However, their lawyer Sushil Tekriwal has said to the media after the child's apprehension that he will demand 'nothing short of the death penalty' in the case.

This demand has no basis in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, which clearly states that no child can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of release. This provision has its roots in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), to which India is a signatory.

Further, even if the preliminary inquiry holds that the child is to be tried as an adult and the trial delivers a guilty verdict, the child will continue to remain in an institutional 'place of safety' till 21 years of age. When the child completes 21 years of age, an evaluation is conducted to examine if the child has reformed for the better. Only if the child is not found to have shown improvement in this evaluation is she/he sent to an adult jail, to complete the remainder of the term.

Thus, while there is much outrage – some of it understandable – over the suspected involvement of a 16-year-old child in the murder case, the law may or may not take a stern view of him.

Updated Date: Nov 08, 2017 16:40 PM

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