My sister Tannistha is a child rights advocate. But to be honest I was not completely convinced about the argument that juveniles should never be treated as adults. That is until a few days back when I suddenly had what people refer to as a moment of clarity. The punishment meted out to convicts is meant to act as a deterrent to others. And that is where the problem is with juvenile justice.
There is a lot of scientific literature that talks about how the frontal lobes are not fully mature in adolescents, thus impairing their ability to make decisions. They still make decisions but that is more controlled by the part of the brain that is linked to “gut feel” or “impulse”. They are biologically incapable of taking all risks and consequences into consideration when responding to emotions.
So what does that mean? Simply that laws that are meant to instil fear of consequence to deter them from committing crimes, will be ineffective. So what end will these laws serve? Vengeance? A thirst for revenge?
On the flip side, sending a kid to a prison full of hardened, grown up criminals is sure way of turning him into one. In absence of any other role models they will emulate what they see. Would it not be better if the juvenile justice system was more geared towards rehabilitation? Would it not be better if they are given a chance, however small, to reform?
The media seems obsessed with the case of the Nirbhaya juvenile. So let’s say this boy in fact did what they would have us believe he did. And I speak on this with just as much information or understanding as comes from being a techie amongst India’s millions of techies. If I was the father, I might have taken law into my own hands. And I would not question Jyoti Singh’s father if he felt the same way or even acted on those. But is that what the legal system is meant to be? A tool for us to take revenge? Your official channel to seek vendetta? Is that what justice is?
The way is see it. There are different arguments. If you want the legal system to reduce crime, then this does not help. If you want the legal system to set an example, then this does not help. But if you want the legal system to take revenge, then yes this works.
The Nirbhaya case was an outlier. One of its kind. Let’s assume this guy was guilty of what the media accused him of. In that case he should be rotting in jail in an ideal world. But should we let that one incident put the lives and future of hundreds of other children at risk? The law is not specific enough. Many children will get caught in the ambiguity of the law. And in my opinion, if the price for giving an otherwise good kid who made a wrong decision a second chance, is letting ten of these Nirbhaya guys walk away, then so be it.