Mantu Kalita, an inmate of Snehalaya Children’s Home and a student of class XI feels that children in conflict with law should not be treated like adults but severe punishment should be meted out in order to reform them. Kamal Pal, another inmate of Snehalaya and a student of class X of National Open School feels that many a times these offences are committed in circumstantial or peer pressure. It should be taken seriously but given a chance to reform themselves because they are not adults.
Children from the children’s home Snehalaya enthusiastically participated in the conversation titled “Should we treat juveniles as adults in cases like rape, murder etc?” This pertinent question on the Cabinet decision of amending the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 to allow minors above the age of 16 who are involved in heinous crimes to be tried in the courts as adults raised many opinions at the Thumb Print Conversation on Juvenile Justice which was held at Snehalaya Centre for Child Rights in Guwahati recently. The conversation was moderated by senior IPS officer Bhaskar jyoti Mahanta, who has been the Nodal Officer of an Assam Police Project called Project AASHWAS for the welfare of child victims of violence and insurgency in Assam.
The conservation was organised in association with Matri, an association of mothers. Matri was founded on January 10, 2010. It is an associate of Snehalaya. Matri is an organization devoted to the advocacy of child rights and conducts workshops on capacity building for mothers, parenting skills, issues such as adoption. Children from the children’s home Snehalaya enthusiastically participated in the conversation.
The moderator, Bhaskar jyoti Mahanta said that the crux of the juvenile justice system is that they are sent to reform houses where they cannot be kept for more than three years. He said, “Consistent propaganda was unleashed in the media after the Nirbhaya case.”
Actor Kopil Bora pointed out that across Guwahati city, a group of bike riders speed away, and the age of most of these riders are between 14 to 16 years. “What kind of citizen they will become if each child is not reformed and guided. It is very frightening. These children who commit crime as a juvenile should be punished according to the gravity of the crime. Serious offences like rape, murder etc should be considered separately,” he felt.
Trying to understand the mind of a child committing such a crime is not an easy task. Dipesh Bhagawati, a Guwahati-based psychiatrist said that it is also that a difficult childhood that generates a lot of angst sometimes. He further says that there are multiple problems. He adds, “We try to self-negate ourselves. Abundance of alcohol is also one of the causes”.
Author and journalist Indrani Raimedhi said that we have tremendous youth force which we have failed to utilise. Children are not getting opportunity, we need to bring a change. “We should look at things in a compassionate manner. “They are more victims than culprits,” she says. Dr. Sabina Ahmed, a paediatrician too was not in the favour of reducing the age of the child from 18 to 16.
Educationist Dr R N Goswami urged on the need for value-based education and felt that parents of such children should also be held responsible. In fact, parents can be deterred by some negative incentives in the government schemes that they avail of.
Sushant Ghosh, Director, SOS village felt that people from all walks of life should work together to prevent all kind of crime. Archana Goswami, one of the founders of Matri said, “We recommend reformation rather than punishment. If a 15-year-old goes for trial without considering whether the crime is heinous or not, it will not be right. The nature of crime should be taken into consideration.”
Many lawyers and activists oppose the amendment, which they see against a knee-jerk reaction against increased sexual violence in the country. Father Lukose, the founder of Snehalaya urges for more reformative action rather than punitive action. “There is no evidence to show that the threat of punishment is an effective deterrent against sexual crimes. On the other hand, thrusting juveniles into the criminal justice system will only serve to harden them,” he says.
Rituparna Roychoudhury, a homemaker urged the need to make the special homes stringent, strictly rehabilitative, make them understand what they have done and how to mend their ways.