• kewal sethi

juvenile and crime


juvenile and crime

following the brutal rape, discussions have come up regarding the age at which, the full criminal responsibility should be fixed. presently this is fixed at 18. it is said that this follows the provisions in the right of child convention adopted by UNICEF in 1989. Under article 1, it is laid down that "For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier". It is thus clear that the any country by law, can determine the age at which majority is attained.

it may be mentioned that all nations except united states of america and somalia have ratified the convention.

in usa, the majority attainment for criminal offences is laid down under state laws and there is no uniformity. in eleven states it is 17 years. these states include texas, illinois, georgia, louisiana, massachusetts, michigan, missouri, and south carolina. in new york and north carolina, it is sixteen years. For the remaining it is 18. it may be mentioned that the minimum age at which the person is supposed to have knowledge of right and wrong is also variable ranging between six and ten years.

in france, seven is the threshold at which the discernment begins, minors between 13 and 18 the punishment can be both educational and criminal depending on the act committed. normally the punishment for the minors below 16 is half of what is prescribed for the adults. however, for those above 16, the penalty will be same as for adult if the offence is serious.

in russia the age of criminal responsibility is 16 years. persons over 14 years old will bear responsibility only for murder, major bodily injury, rape, kidnapping, larceny, robbery, burglary, stealing of firearms

in UK, the criminal responsibility age is ten years in england and wales. normally they are tried in a youth court but in exceptional cases, they can be tried as an adult in an ordinary court. in scotland the age of responsibility begins at 8 but the prosecution is from the age of 12 upwards.

sweden, finland and norway set the age at 15 years. some states refuse to fix a date but leave discretion to prosecutors to argue or the judges to rule on whether the offender understand the difference between right and wrong.

in new zealand the age is ten years for murder and manslaughter, 12 for offences punishable with imprisonment of fourteen years or over, and 14 for all other offences. in australia there is an option of to rebuttal if the offender is below 14 years of age. in south africa, this is lowered to ten years.

in china death, rape, murder, rape, robbery, arson, explosion, plantings of toxic substances and dangerous drugs, minimum is 14 years while for other crimes it is 16 years.

considering the general trend in various countires and looking to the fact that, thanks to the modern means of knowledge – good and bad – are available at an early age and the intellect matures earlier than it used to in the agrarian economies in the older days, the reduction of age for considering a person to commit a crime deliberately and after due consideration, fully aware of the concept of right and wrong, is not only desirable but also necessary.

the point, in so far as the present case is concerned, is whether we can retrospectively amend the law to provide for the minimum age for specific offences. article 20(1) specifically prohibits it saying "no person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of commission of the offence."

but can the age of juvenile with respect to specific crimes be reduced retrospectively. such an act can be placed in schedule 9 of the constitution so that it is not subject to judicial review. this would not alter the basic structure of the constitution. it would be reasonable to introduce the concept of severity of certain crimes which interfere with the right of a person to live with dignity. certainly rape, murder do negate this right. the fundamental right is not meant for the government only but also for the public at large. the atrocities on scheduled castes come within this purview and act has been enacted by government to deal with it. so why not atrocities on women.


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