May 31, 2024

 How does Indian law treat minors in cases of serious crimes?

The recent car crash tragedy in Pune that claimed two lives has raised questions on whether our existing laws that treat minors more leniently than adults should be re-examined in the case of serious crimes. This incident involved a 17 year old who was driving  a luxury car in a drunken state, running over two motorists on a Pune road. However, he was granted bail immediately the next day with shockingly merciful bail conditions. This triggered a huge social media outrage which eventually led to the cancellation of bail. 

In India, the laws around ‘juvenile delinquency’ or offences by minors are different and more forbearing. In fact, the  principal act which deals with juvenile offences lays down that bail is the norm in case of any crime by children and the nature of the crime will not be held as a ground for denying bail. 

In this Weekly, we explore how the law handles crimes by minors and if there are any exceptions made in case of more serious crimes. 

What is the current law in India for juvenile offenders?

Currently, offences by minors, i.e., below the age of 18 are governed by the Juvenile Justice ( Care and Protection) Act, 2015. This Act categories those who, under the age of 18 years have allegedly or is found to have committed an offence as “child in conflict with law”. They are also commonly referred to as juveniles. 

Section 10 of the Act enlists that whenever a child in conflict with law is arrested by the Police, they will be immediately handed over to a ‘special juvenile unit’ of the police or a designated child welfare officer. They must be  produced before the Juvenile Justice Board, the authority which adjudicates on cases of juvenile delinquencies, within 24 hours. 

Section 12(1) of the Act further lays down that once a juvenile is arrested or detained by an authority on charge of any offence, they are eligible to be released on bail with or without surety, on the condition that such release must be on reasonable grounds and that it won’t expose them to any form of danger or result in any form of injustice. 

Section 12(2)  of the Act clarifies that in case a juvenile is not released on bail, then they will be sent to an observation home or any place of safety. Under no circumstances, can a juvenile be kept in a jail or police lock up. 

The Indian Penal Code, 1863 states that nothing will be considered an offence if it is committed by a child under the age of 7 years. This also applies to children aged between 7 years and 12 years , except it can be proved that the child had the maturity to understand the nature of the crime. Additionally, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 lays down that juveniles under the age of 16 will only and only be tried under the established provisions of the law which are child friendly and that juvenile offenders are eligible for anticipatory bail. 

What are the punishments prescribed for juvenile offenders in India?

The Act, under section 18 prescribes  punishment for different categories of crime by juvenile offenders ; petty crimes and serious crimes. 

If a juvenile under 16 years of age is convicted of any petty or serious crimes, the Juvenile Justice Board can order the juvenile to be sent to an observation home for a period not exceeding 3 years. The Board may also order the Juvenile to be released under probation with the mandate to participate in counselling or other restorative practices. In certain cases, depending on the nature of the crime and specific needs of the juvenile, the Board may also order the guardian of the juvenile to pay a fine. 

Are there any exceptions in case of heinous cases?

In case of a heinous crime committed by a juvenile between the ages of 16 and 18, the Board will first conduct a preliminary enquiry. If the Board is satisfied then, they can transfer the case to a special Children’s Court which may choose to try the juvenile as an adult. In that case the punishment applicable to any adult convicted of such a crime can also be levied upon the juvenile. However, care must be taken that firstly, the trial is conducted in a child friendly atmosphere and secondly, a juvenile cannot be punished with life imprisonment or death sentence

If convicted of a heinous crime, the juvenile can be sent to a jail from the observation home upon obtaining 18 years.

What can possibly happen in the Pune case going forward?

A lot debates over whether the laws around juvenile offenders in case of heinous offences must be different from adult offenders has taken place since the horrifying 2012 Nirbhaya Rape case. 

In the 2014 case of Dr. Subramanian Swamy vs. Raju, Thr, Member of Juvenile Justice Board, the Supreme Court observed that irrespective of the gravity of the crime, it is constitutional to treat juveniles differently from adults because the law is intended to rehabilitate and restore the juveniles back to the society. 

On similar lines, while the 17 year old may be subjected to the regular procedure of law in the Children’s Court, the Court will assume a restorative and rehabilitative view while sentencing any punishment 

To know more about how the law tackles crimes by minors, read our explainer here