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The very meaning of the word “child” denotes a person who has as yet not attained sufficient maturity or understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his actions. Hence, the law conceded certain immunities to a child from the consequences of his actions which are in conflict with law.

Section 82 of the Indian Penal Code conceived the age of 7 years till which the child should be given a complete immunity from prosecution under criminal law by providing that nothing would be an offence which is done by a child under seven years of age.

The Code under section 83 categorises for acts or any action of a child/person within the age group of 7 to 12 years which are in conflict with law in two categories, a child, “who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge of the nature and consequences of his conduct” vis-a-vis his action in conflict with criminal law, is to be treated still as a child and has been bestowed with the complete immunity as has been granted to a child under the seven years of age. It however implies that under the same age group, i.e. between 7 to 12 years, if the person has attained sufficient mental maturity of understanding the nature and consequences of his actions in conflict with criminal law, he is to be given no such protection of law and is to be tried as an adult  

The Juvenile Justice Act no.53 of 1986 was enacted in the year 1986. Initially, it defined male juvenile /child as a person who has not completed 16 years of age and female juvenile/child as a person who has not attained the age of 18 years. Later on through the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, the age bar for male juvenile was also raised to 18 years. Further, by the amendment of 2006, section 2 sub-section (l) was substituted by a new section laying down that,

 

Even "juvenile in conflict with law" means a juvenile who is alleged to have committed an offence and has not completed eighteenth year of age as on the date of commission of such offence;

 

Thus, the crux of determining the status of a juvenile in conflict with law is the state of maturity or understanding his mind has achieved. For some, it can be even before 16 years and for others it may be 18 years or even more. The immunity/protection to be granted should depend on, (i) nature of the crime, and (ii) as to whether the person/juvenile committing the offence had proper understanding of the nature and consequences of his action or not.

It may be relevant to note here that with the advancement of technology, films, television, radio, computer and literacy/education, the mental development of a child today is much faster than before. Keeping this in mind, the voting age has been reduced from 21 to 18. The state of mental awareness of today’s child can well be fixed. There may be exceptions to this when a child has not been able to grow mentally even till 16, or even after 18, hence to do justice to such cases the discretion should bestowed upon the Judge to determine proper sentence.

Considering all circumstances, environmental impact and past experience, most of the countries are reducing the age for granting protection against heinous crimes. In US, in majority of its States (38 States), the upper age of juvenile has been fixed at 17 years, while in 3 States it has been placed at 15 years. The Supreme Court of US, in the case of Stanford Versus Kentucky, has upheld constitutionality of death penalty for heinous crime committed at the age of 16 years. Seventeen out of (50) states of US permit execution of persons of 16 years old for murder as an adult. Some of them have amended their laws providing for transfer of juvenile from the care of juvenile court to criminal courts if the offence appears to be murder or a heinous crime. There has been a “Get Tough” movement in United States with the slogan “adult crime, adult time”. In the changed circumstances, the general tendency of every state and federal amendment in U.S. has been to transfer to greater number of juveniles in criminal courts for prosecution and punishment as adults. There has also been phenomenal rise in blended sentencing – i.e. mix of both juvenile and adult sanctions to the same persons. There are also provision for awarding life term without parol for juveniles for such crimes. As per statics released, two thousand juveniles are undergoing life term in U.S.

Similarly in France, no criminal charges up to the age of 10 years and 10 to 13 years of age, only educational penalties such as placing in a home or specialized Centre, and between thirteen to sixteen years of age, minors will get only half the adult sentence; and lastly, between 16 to 18 years of age, person would be remanded to Criminal Court and plea of juvenility can be set aside. In UK and Wales, those below 10 years cannot be charged with crime, between the age ten to eighteen, juveniles are to be tried in Youth Court without jury, and for serious crimes like murder or rape, their case starts in Youth Court but is passed on to the adult courts.

In Australia, up to the age of ten years no criminal charges, but between ten to twelve, he can be criminally prosecuted if proved that the child understood that what he has done was wrong. In most states, age of juveniles is 17 years and in Queensland, it is 16 years.

There has been much noise about the protection of a so called juvenile, but what about protection of the Society at large against a matured criminal mind though his age is technically below eighteen?

Hence the power to decide whether a criminal is to be treated as juvenile or as an adult shall be with the Court itself and not bound by the special law.


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