Severe punishment in itself is not a deterrent

Severe punishment in  itself is not a deterrent

Prof Ved Kumari, a Professor in Delhi University’s Law faculty, is an authoritative voice on juvenile justice. Ved Kumari, also a former Chairperson of Delhi Judicial Academy, spoke to Deccan Herald’s Shemin Joy. Excerpts:


On lowering age

Why have we chosen this model? What are the evidences available with the government to say this is the only method available to deal with children? You cannot be responding to laws by emotions. A major myth is being propagated by media and the government that by giving severe punishment, crime will come down.


We increased punishment for rapes to maximum 10 years in 1983. We made it death penalty in 2013. Did the crime rate drop? So, by transferring minors to adult system, you are not going to make the crime rate come down nor are we making victims feel secure by sending juveniles into jails. We are actually going to do more harm. The remedy is worse than the malady.

Problems and Positives


There is no training for members of Juvenile Justice Boards. They will just send everybody to jail. Laws are so faulty that within one month JJBs will have to determine the circumstances of the offence and decide on whether to transfer the case.

Circumstances mean that they are confirming that the offence has been committed. On the positive side, children will no more be referred as juveniles. The moment you describe him as a juvenile, he is considered an offender.

Perception

When a minor is involved in a case, media always highlight the juvenile. The whole blame is put on the child. There is a media created popular perception that juveniles are in every crime. A perception is also created that severe punishment is a deterrent.

One has to understand that it is not the quantum of punishment that matters but certainty. We have to look at those conditions why these youngsters are committing a crime rather than responding to the situation.

We need to find out why they are doing so. One has to understand every child who commits a barbaric offence has to have a background of barbaric abuse to him to start with. We did not do anything to address that.

Government


In 1960, the government had said that a child (boys below 16 and girls below 18) will not be kept in prison or police station under any circumstance. In 2000, we expanded it for boys to 18. Now, Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi is saying situation has changed.

What has changed? Whatever changes has been suggested and which are the countries following it? Is the US saying that they have a success story? is England saying so? They are saying the reverse. Apart from public demand, what scientific figures you have.

Next course

If the amendments are passed, then the focus have to shift to prison reforms, on ensuring that the minors send to jail are segregated, they are given vocational training and keep a track on them. All that has to be focussed. But there should be a debate on alternatives also--for eg, suspended sentence.

The sentence should be suspended for three years and then experts should be allowed to work with the offender for three years to see whether he can be reformed. If he manages, he should be given a chance.

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