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Death Penalty for Juveniles

The term Juvenile justice as usually narrowly to refers to the term adjudication, reformation and rehabilitation process after a juvenile has committed an act which is against the law. In its wider sense, it includes preventive measures before the advent of delinquency.

In India that Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 was the wider field of prevention of Delinquency by bringing in children in need of care and protection within its ambit as well as making provisions for dealing with children who are alleged or found to have committed an offence. This particular area however examines the theory and practice of the laws relating to the juveniles who have committed offence and makes only contextual references to the provisions dealing with the juveniles in need of care and protection.

Children who commit offences in India have long been recognised as different from adults who commit offences even after the advent of British laws. Separate punishments were prescribed for children who commit offences under the Hindu law as well as the Muslim law. The modern history of Juvenile Justice in India begins from the year of 1850 when the first law was enacted dealing with children under the age of 15 years who committed Petty offences or were found vagrant.

It began modesty by providing for binding such children's over as apprentices to learn some trade but some expanded by establishing separate residential facilities for reforming children. Children courts followed not long after the separation of children from adult offenders during adjudication. These courts came into their own view and perspective with the criminal justice system with the passing out the first uniform legislation for the whole of India to provide for care protection reformation and rehabilitation of delinquent and neglected children and to prohibit the sending of children's to prison or the use of jail and police station under any circumstances.

History Of The Death Penalty

The concept of or the history of death penalty for juvenile offender was basically started in the year 1642, Thomas Granger who was 16 years of age who was hanged in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, for having sexual interaction with a mare, a cow and some goats. Where this incident stands as a first documented execution of a child offender and the debut for the death penalty of a juvenile. Where this practice would end 363 years later after the deaths of at least 366 child offenders people under the age of 18 at the time of their act or the crime is taken place.

Where in the year of 1786 the youngest girl to be executed was 12 years old Hannah Ocuish, a Native American Child who was hanged in Connecticut for murdering a 6 year old white girl. James Arcene, a Cherokee who was the youngest ever to be condemned. He was hanged in Arkansas in the year 1885 for a murder - robbery he helped commit when he was 1- years old. The execution came 13 years later. Abolitionists asserted tht the penalty was meted out to a fractional number of teens who for reasons of discrimination, caprice, fear, rage , tough on crime politics or some inchoate loathing were punished far more than scores of other offenders who committed equally horrific or worse crimes.

By 1972, the U.S Supreme Court ruling in Furman v. Georgia largely agreed. Death sentences for all age group were imposed so arbitrarily so wantonly and freakishly as Justice Potter Stewart put in that they violated the Eighteen Amendment, the court held. The ruling in effect struck down all death penalty statutes as they then existed, but it allowed the estates an opportunity to craft new, less discriminatory laws. More than 30 states enacted statutes that would pass judicial muster. The modern era of the death penalty began. By 1974, teenagers once again arrived on the death row. The Simmons ruling spread the lives of 72 Juvenile Offenders still on death row at the the time. There are few decisions which came later in implementation of this also.

Problems In Junvenile Deliquency

The Problem of juvenile delinquency is not new. It occurs in all the societies simple as well as complex i.e wherever a relationship us affected between a group of individuals leading to maladjustments and conflicts. As India is a developing country the problem of juvenile neglect and delinquency is considerably low but gradually increasing according to the NCRB in the recent report. But when we take a report on whole the crimes committed by juveniles to total crimes reported in the country has increased in last few years.

Considering the magnitude of the problem and issues involved, analysis indicates that the number of factors for neglect and delinquency are mostly common in nature, based on socio - economic and psychological reasons. Poverty, broken families, family tensions, emotional, breakdown of social values and joint family system, the influence of media besides the unhealthy living conditions of slums and such other conditions explain the phenomena of juvenile delinquency. The neglect of children by their parents, family, society and the nation create detrimental effect on their physical, mental growth and over all developments.

  • Whether a particular punishment is cruel or unsual how does the court verify?
  • Is this a subjective judgment based on the judge's personal beliefs, or are there objective factors to be considered?

While taking any act into consideration or in account of question any act is cruel or unusual where we need observe the involvement of a juvenile in cases. Where the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data clearly states the involvement of the juveniles in committing heinous crimes such as Murder has increased by over 86 percent between the year 2008 to 2014 and while the incidents of rape by juveniles had increased by 142 percentage during the same time.

In all, juveniles are responsible for only about 1.2 percentage of the total crime committed in the country last year. Where in act where the first thing which we need observe is that the ‘AGE'. Determining the age of the person it will be considered whether the person is a juvenile or not, where this stands a as an initial process. So, to have an efficient process in place of determining the age who has the ultimate power is it the Juvenile Justice Board or the Court. Where in regard to this juvenile delinquency the Karnataka High Court has said that:

Where in referring to the case of Sri Puneet v/s State of Karnataka
The Sessions Court has to enquire into the claim regarding the age of the accused as to whether the matter is triable by the Juvenile Justice Board or by this Court in view of Section 14, 15 and 18 of the Juvenile Justice Act. In the said order, the learned Sessions Judge has in fact considered the age of the boy, under the provision of Section 34 of the Juvenile Justice Act and after perusal of the Aadhaar Card and also the Birth Certificate. Both shows that the date of birth of the accused as 28.04.1999. Therefore, the trial Court has come to the conclusion that, the accused has completed the age of 16 years and he was below the age of 18 years and he was a minor as on the date of the alleged incident.

Though the Sessions Judge has come to the conclusion that the accused was above the age of 16 years and below the age of 18 years, but without referring to the provisions of Sections 15 and 18 of the Juvenile Justice Act, he himself has simply stated that the accused has committed the heinous offence and it is purely conferred on the Special Court to decide the age under section 34 of the Juvenile Justice Act, and therefore, the Sessions Court has got jurisdiction to proceed with the trial of the case.

The question arises that whether this court to have the meticulous look at Sections 15 and 18 of the Juvenile Justice Act to consider whether the Sessions Judge has got any power to pass such an order holding that the offence is heinous in nature and that the accused can be tried by the Sessions Court itself. Sessions Judge has got any power to pass such an order holding that the offence is heinous in nature and that's the stands as the only ground to try the matter in Sessions Court.

For the purpose of analysing and coming to a conclusion to pass order under section 15 of the Juvenile Justice Act, the Board has got ample power to take the assistance of an experienced psychologists or Psycho-social workers or other experts. It is also made clear that, if the Board is satisfied on the preliminary assessment and arrived at a conclusion that the Board itself can dispose of the case by following the procedure to try the accused before the Board itself as contemplated under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC). and the Juvenile Justice Act. In such on eventuality, the Board shall not send the Juvenile to the Sessions Court for trial. Therefore, it is crystal clear that such power is exclusively vested with the Board to pass such an order.

So, in this case the HC has clearly stated so it clear that there is no any judgments or consideration of the acts by judge's person views or beliefs

Only the Juvenile Justice Board has the power to decide whether an offence committed by a juvenile is heinous.

Whether Juvenile Courts has the power to provide Capital Punishments to the Juveniles and whether Death Penalty is the only punishment should be given in case of heinous crimes?
Children are not capable of adults for their action. In references of the Death Penalty context, that principal has caused many different views in which the AGE plays a major role as what age is too young for someone to be subject to execution. International Human Rights law has long prohibited the use of the death penalty against people who were younger than age 18 at the time of the offense.

While just considering the International Laws into consideration where the U.S Court states that that proper cutoff should be at age of 16, but the states gradually applied more stringent standards to avoid conflict with other areas of the law where children were treated differently. By 2005, almost 30 states had either abolished the death penalty of all offenders or at least for those under the age of 18 years.

Where the question arises before us is that whether even the age of 18 is too young to assume full adult accountability for a serious/heinous crime. Some have suggested that 21 years would be more appropriate age when it comes the matter of both because of the rights and responsibility conferred by the society at that age and because new brain science shows that critical areas of the brain relating to judgement, major decisions, and consequential thinking do not mature until the mid-twenties. The Court's ruling or the Courts interpretation on the application of the death penalty to juveniles has spurred other decisions regarding the use of life without parole for this same group.

Initially, juvenile courts had enjoyed broad discretion in deciding when to waive cases to criminal court. However, waiver decisions were not consistent across States, and legislatures began to reform the process by standardizing judicial decision making. As we have already discussed that JJB has the whole authority to decide on a particular act and where that juveniles were entitled to a hearing, representation by counsel, access to information upon which the waiver decision was based, and a statement of reasons justifying the waiver decision. The court also laid out a number of factors for the Juvenile Judge need to make a note of it while taking the decisions on punishments

  • The seriousness and type of offense and the manner in which it was committed plays a major role and where this should be taken to consideration.
  • The sophistication and maturity of the juvenile as determined by consideration of his or her homelife, environmental situation, emotional attitude, and pattern of living.
  • The juvenile's record and history.
  • The prospects for protecting the public and rehabilitating the juvenile.

Juveniles were thus guaranteed certain rights, but they still potentially faced the same punishments, including capital punishment, as adults in the criminal justice system.

Subsequently, The Indian Parliament has took a good move in passing a bill in which it clearly states juveniles between Age 16 and 18 years of age to be tried as adults for heinous crimes like rape or murder. At present, those under 18 can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in a reform facility.

The above bill was passed as there was the necessity of the Amendment. The move to change the law gathered momentum after the youngest convict in the notorious 2012 Delhi gang rape was released from detention. There was a unique contribution by the parents of the victim to change the law.

Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, died after being brutally raped by 5 men and one minor in a bus in the year of 2012.The attack sparked a huge public outcry in India and forced the authorities to introduce tough new laws and to make amendments to deal with crimes against women.

Four adult convicts in the case are appealing against death sentences. A fifth died in prison. But the youngest of her attackers, who was 17 at the time of the crime, was sentenced to three years and was released.
During his trial in a juvenile court, there were calls to try him as an adult and protests were held over the weekend against his release. Since his release, the rapist has been housed with a charity because of fears over his safety. Where an appeal was being filed in the Supreme Court in regard to his.

The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal to stop his release, saying it shared the concern of most citizens but its hands were tied by the law.

The new law will not apply to the youngest 2012 rapist, but it will be used in future cases involving juvenile offenders above 16 years. Authorities said that the number of juvenile crimes has been increasing last year, 38,065 cases were registered, including many cases of rapes, murders and acid attacks which falls to the category of heinous crimes.

Where on the other hand we have the critics say that India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which mandates that all children under the age of 18 be treated equally, and say the new law will violate the convention.

Hon'ble Supreme Court Justice Madan B Lokur, who was serving as a Chairman of the Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee, he said that juvenile convicts cannot be handed down capital punishment in every case pertaining to heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

He said judgement in such cases had to be delivered on the basis of evidence. It is not that for every murder, for every rape, the only penalty is death penalty. I mean, we are not savages in this country, the SC judge

So, to taking a note of above stated consideration where we can take decisions as Capital Punishments in case of Juvenile Offender only based the person happens to be 17 years old or close to 18 years old, commits a heinous crime - therefore he must get the death penalty, it cannot be like that. Where it is a note that we need to still work on the basis of evidence and come to some conclusion,.

Overall, we can draw a conclusion that to take decisions for Capital Punishment is difficult and where this is not the only answer for all the heinous crimes. We can adapt the theory of Deterrence and Retribution for the Young Offenders in more effective manner.

Juvenile crimes are a harsh reality, and to reduce them, the Act must be effectively implemented, along with that awareness must be created. The approach and the thinking of the essential players in the system, like the police needs to change from punishing to reforming the juveniles in conflict with law.

There are psychological, biological, physiological and personal factors which are responsible for juvenile delinquency, along with other factors such as peer pressure, physical disability, dissatisfaction with school. Family is the one of the oldest and most important units of society, it is responsible for the socialization of the child. A child learns from his family the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate.

Many experts and activists viewed prior to 2012 case and responses as creation of media sensationalisation of the issue, and cautioned against any regressive move to disturb the momentum of juvenile justice system. However, some section in the society felt that in view of terrorism and other serious offences, JJ Act should tighten up the laws include punitive approaches in the existing Juvenile Justice Law, which so far is purely rehabilitative and reformative.

End- Notes:

  1. Bansal Sadhana, Delinquent Juvenile and Their rehabilitation, Omsons Publications, Delhi, 1999, chap. The Juvenile Court and Delinquency , p. 58-62
  2. Bhattacharya, Sunil K., Juvenile Justice, An Indian Scenario, 2000, Regency Publications, p.144-145.
  3. Burt, Cyril(1925): The Young Delinquent, London, The University of London Press, p.viii.
  4. S. K. Bhattacharya, 'Juvenile Delinquency – Problems and Perspective, Social Defence, Volume 16, Issue 61, Dated (July 1980) p.18-27
  5. Adenwalla, Ms. Maharukh : Child Protection and Juvenile Justice System for Juvenile in Conflict with Law, Childline India Foundation, December 2006, p.79.
  6. Agarwal, Justice B.D., Guwahati High Court, NGOs – Legislative Governance Needed, AIR June 2008 – Journal 84.
  7. Amnesty International Reports, 1987-2002. Attar, A.D., Juvenile Delinquency : A Comparative Study, 1964, p.54.
  8. BBC World Service, Saturday 24th Feb., 2001.
  9. Dutta Shaswata, Theories of punishment – A Socio-Legal View, Legal Service India.Com, available at
  10. The Times of India, Juvenile News, 25th September 2011, available at
  11. Juvenile Crime gets uglier, Sakaal Times, Sunday April 22, 2012, available at
  12. Crime in the United States, 2004, Juveniles and Age (status) offences http://

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