Juvenile Justice: Contradictions between punishment and reformation

Tanay Akash, B.A. LL.B. Central University of South Bihar

“Juvenile crime is not naturally born in the boy, but is largely due either to the spirit of adventure that is in him, to his own stupidity, or to his lack of discipline, according to the nature of the individual.” This quotation by “Robert Baden – Powell” distinctly relates the condition of juvenile justice system in contemporary India. Whether the present day legislation in India on juveniles are for its reformation or to give punishment.

Section 2(k) of the juvenile justice act, 2000 defines “juvenile” as a person who has not completed the age of 18 years. The trial procedure was different for them as they were considered as one of the vulnerable class of our society but the drastic change came in this with the coming of juvenile justice (care and protection of children) Act, 2015, if a juvenile within the age group 16-18 years is in the conflict with law and engaged in any of the heinous crime can be tried as adults.

The engagement of juvenile in heinous crimes and increasing demand of punishment for them paved the path for the legislation such as Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children) Act, 2015. The requirement of this act was seen in 2013 after the brutal “Nirbhaya Rape Case” where a “juvenile” in spite being culprit was not be given appropriate punishment just because he was defended by the law as he was a “juvenile”. The passing of criminal law amendment act 2013, Justice Verma committee’s recommendation as well as rapid public protests helped in reducing the age of juvenile engaged in heinous crimes from 18 to 16.

Also, this legislation came with a debate that, isn’t the trial of juvenile even in the heinous crime a violation of reformative theory. It was argued that most of the children who break law belong to the poor and illiterate family and they must get educated in spite of being punished. Even the question arose that whether this act is in the contradiction with the international standards or not. Child rights activists and organisations also criticised this act and called it as a regressive move. Also it was argued that child is just like wet cement and if once due to harsh punishment as criminals it hardens, it can never be reformed.

But, some sections of the society also felt that individual involved in crimes such as terrorism, rape etc. deserves to be punished harshly. Before passing of the bill it was also found in a research that 50% of the cases of the juvenile crimes were committed by the Individuals who know that they will get away with it. Thus, ultimately there are certain question arises, ‘Is juvenile crime is somehow related to a particular class or standard of living?’, and ‘Is the newly formed juvenile justice act 2015 is a regressive move and at last even in heinous crimes juvenile should be punished or reformed?’

Juvenile Justice Act: Punishment or Reform

With the coming of The Juvenile Justice (care and protection) Act, 2015, juvenile age turned down from 18 to 16 years in the matters of heinous crimes and the defendant will be tried as adults. This provision is often said to be as a regressive mode and violative of child rights. But as per the decision was given by Delhi HC on 26th May 2016, “There is no need of an application for minor‘s bail. It would be the judgment of juvenile justice board to decide what time period the child has to be kept as juvenile” shows apart from heinous crimes it is the clear cut intension of the legislature as well as judiciary that the child delinquency is a very fragile matter and it must be treated with care. Also, under the provisions of Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) 2009-2010 the juvenile justice system has been improved and moreover better channelized. But as there is a hike in the number of juvenile crime, just treating it with the child psychology and counselling is not enough. The most popular theory of “No one is born criminal” and every crime can be reformed by effective administration can’t be applied in the matters of heinous crimes. There is a need to define the degree of the crime committed and if the heinous crimes will be treated under reformation it would certainly be injustice to the victim. No doubt juvenile crime need reforms but the presumption in every crime that the juvenile was unaware of the nature and consequence of the crime he is committing is wrong. The reformative theory must apply but where there is a chance of reformation, a criminal mind must be punished.


In India, the law of the land follows reformative theory and believes that punishment is only given to reform the mental status of a person so that he/she can regain its social life and enjoy a normal life. The provisions of Juvenile Justice Act 2015 nowhere violates any provisions of natural justice or reformative theory but it is trying to create a bar over the mistake and crime. Juvenile doing mistake can easily be reformed but doing a heinous crime will take him to be treated as an adult and that is nowhere a regressive mode.

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