Juvenile justice has been a hotly debated topic this week, with the juvenile delinquent in Delhi rape case set to be released tomorrow. Looks like most Indians are of the opinion that he should not be allowed to walk free. Their reasons vary, but most of them come down to one of the two main arguments – first, that if he is old enough to commit such a crime, he is old enough to face the punishment without being given any consideration for his juvenile status (As per records he was 17 years and a few months at the time of the crime, and adult justice applies to those who are 18 or above). The second argument is that he is too dangerous to be “unleashed” upon the society.
The first of these arguments ignores the fact that laws cannot be subjective. There has to be a clear rule as to who is a juvenile and who is not (as there is now), and this distinction has to be respected to prevent misuse and abuse of the law. The age limit specified in the law can be changed through legislation, but it cannot be left to be decided subjectively in each case based on public opinion or media campaigns. This is very similar to how we set an age limit to decide who can drive and who can vote. The principle we follow is not that if a person is old enough to drive he is old enough to be issued a driving license. Do those who think that a juvenile who is old enough to commit a crime should be treated as an adult under the law, also support his right to vote because he is legally an adult?
The law may be amended to treat specific crimes under general law (i.e., not juvenile law) irrespective of the age of the accused. After all, in a democracy, people have the right to make laws as they deem fair and useful. But till the time such a change has been made, all juveniles who are accused or convicted of crimes – no matter how grave or heinous – should get the benefit of laws of juvenile justice. If we forego this principle for a specific case based on public opinion, we are essentially forgoing rule of the law for mob justice.
Now, coming to the other argument based on the threat posed to society by the release of an unreformed convict, I fail to understand how this is different from the release of any other convict after they have served their term. If this convict were to be released after 30 years (instead of 3), does that mean he would be reformed? Is it not possible that being restrained illegally and thus deprived of a good part of his life, he may hold a grudge against society which will make him a much more dangerous threat? There is also no real, objective, way to see if a person has reformed. (Well, a person who is really evil will also likely know to hide his evil intentions). And if we were to decide on subjective opinion of “experts” to decide whether a convict is reformed before they can be released, it will only provide a good opportunity for these experts to make money while convicts without money or influence will continue to languish in jails even after completing their terms.
To conclude, while I do not support any crime, I do feel that even criminals deserve justice. They need to be treated as per the laws that are in effect. I feel that justice should not be vindictive, that the purpose of detention centers should be reform and not punishment, and that convicts who have served their term should be given another chance to start life afresh and atone for their sins.