The impact of western civilization and temptation for luxuries and pompous life has greatly disturbed the modem Indian youth. Consequently, there has been a considerable growth in crimes committed by juveniles. India like any other country, also seeks to tackle the problem of juvenile delinquency on the .basis of three fundamental assumptions:—
(i) Young offenders should not be tried; they should rather be corrected;
(ii) They should not be punished but reformed
(iii) Exclusion of delinquents i.e. children in conflict with law from the ambit of Court and stress on their non-penal treatment through community based social control agencies such a Juvenile Justice Board, Observation Homes, Special Homes etc.
The Indian law contains a more precise and clear-cut definition of juvenile delinquency. It provides that any violation of existing penal law of the country committed by a child under eighteen years, shall be an act in conflict with law for the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Justice Board.
It is significant to note that the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, lays down a separate procedure for dealing with the neglected and uncontrollable juveniles who have been termed as ‘children in need of care and protection’. The former are to be dealt with by the Juvenile Justice Board.
The provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 clearly indicate that unlike USA and England, the courts in India do not have jurisdiction in relation to child in conflict with law. That apart, the term ‘delinquency’ in relation to juveniles has the same meaning as ‘offences’ committed by adults.
Thus, there is no difference between the contents of delinquency and an offence except that an offence committed by an adult person is triable in ordinary court whereas the juvenile who commits a delinquent act is proceeded against in the Juvenile Justice Board through a special procedure.
Besides, certain special provisions also exist in the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 in relation to the young and juvenile offenders which provide for their special treatment and procedure. They are as follows:—
(1) Sections 82 and 83 of the Indian Penal Code contain elaborate provisions regarding the extent of criminal liability of children belonging to different age groups. A child below the age of seven is doli incapex, that is, incapable of committing a crime. Likewise, a child between seven and twelve years of age has only a limited criminal liability. The contention is to justify a lenient treatment to young offenders because they cannot appreciate the nature and consequences of their act due to lack of sufficient maturity and understanding. Under the circumstances, it would be grossly unjust to treat them at par with the adult offenders.
(2) Section 360 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides that when any person who is below twenty-one years of age or any woman, is convicted of an offence not being punishable with death or imprisonment for life, and no previous conviction is proved against such person, the court may, having regard to the age, character and antecedents of the offender, and to the circumstances in which the offence was committed, order release of the offender on probation of good conduct for a period not exceeding three years on entering into a bond with or without sureties, instead of sentencing him to any punishment. Such ‘first offenders’ are not to be tried in a criminal court through the ordinary procedure. Instead, they are to be dealt with and corrected through special methods or treatment under the law. The object is to segregate the young offenders from hardened criminals so that they are not exposed to recidivistic tendencies.
(3) Section 27 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 further suggests that a lenient treatment to juveniles has already received statutory recognition in the Indian law. The section provides that if a person below sixteen years of age commits an offence other than the one punishable with death or imprisonment for life, he should be awarded a lenient punishment depending on his previous history, character and circumstances which led him to commit the crime. His sentence can further be commuted for good behaviour during the term of his imprisonment.
With a view to preventing the juvenile offender from stigmatisation and embarrassment, the proceedings instituted against him are neither published nor published. His name, address or identity is not disclosed and general public is excluded from witnessing the trial. The delinquent’s parents may, however, be allowed to attend the trial. The object of these closed-door proceedings is to keep off the delinquent from the rigours of procedural law and make the trial simple and less formal.
The guiding principles relating to the treatment of children and young delinquents are now contained in two Central Acts, namely, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958. The latter Act provides for release of juvenile offenders on probation.
The theme underlying these legislative measures pre-supposes that youngsters are “naughty” by nature and therefore, society’s attitude towards them should be one of tolerence and generosity. That apart, the mental attitude of juvenile delinquent at the time of committing crime certainly differs from that of a confirmed adult criminal. It would therefore, be grossly unjust to punish the two alike.