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16 or 18 years or any other age: What should be the juvenile age bar?
Union Minister for women and child welfare, Maneka Gandhi's said that government is preparing a bill to bring down juvenile age bar from 18 to 16 years.

She also opined that for crimes such as rape, juvenile offenders must be treated in the same way as adult offenders. This sparked a debate on juvenile justice system and its scope and limit of severe crimes such as rape, murder etc.

Let's first understand the juvenile justice system. A juvenile court generally adjudicates criminal offences committed by child and adolescents. The Juvenile Court generally considers that the young offenders are in fact immature and commit crime because they were not guided properly by parents and may be provoked by others. As immaturity is sole criteria, although the crime might be severe, they are not considered as hardcore criminals. They are punished mildly and mostly in the form of correctional intent.

The logic or intent behind such judicial system is no doubt noble, but should the juvenility be decided on age basis? If yes, what would be the age-line? What would be the logic? The juveniles in severe cases are imprisoned until they reached the age of adulthood. This differs in different countries as a person is considered an adult when the person reaches 16, 18, 21, 23 and even 25 years in different countries.

Now what would be an adult by definition? Is it biological? If yes then age of 25 must be considered as adulthood because scientists says human fully grow at the age of 25. Thus all below the age of 25 must be minor and juvenile.

Some suggest that the age of the children upto which they live under parental guide should be considered age limit for being juvenile. That's why the age from 16 to 18 is mostly considered as the upper age limit for a juvenile. (In Scotland the age limit is 16, in some states in USA the age limit is 17 and in many countries including India the age limit is 18)

This logic might be appropriate for the era in 1940s or 1960s. Yes, during that period, a children while growing remain under control of their parents (till completion of their education), gets knowledge from school-college, from surrounded society etc. One needs to be of a certain age to gain some maturity in understanding. That's why perhaps minimum age for voting was maintained as 21 years, minimum age for contesting Lok Sabha age was 25 years.

But in this Internet era, should age remain as the only consideration of someone's maturity? A 12 year boy is more matured in handling computers, electronic devices, road rules and many more things than a 25 year full grown adult in 1940s. The IQ levels are ever increasing thanks to TV, Mobile phones, Internet etc. Thus one may not be physically fully grown, but mentally, they are mature.

Now can we identify an age where we can consider one has attained maturity? The answer is 'No'. A twelve year kid may be more matured than a 25 year adult considering the exposure one has. That means a biologically half grown kid might be more mature (more IQ) than a biologically full grown adult. A 14 year young boy can commit mass murder with a plan (As happened in American School shooting) whereas a 30 year humble man would be fainted on seeing blood! A 16 year old boy can be a brutal rapist (Nirbhaya Case) than other adult rapists. Thus, does age matter anymore?

There is another danger too! If you reduce the age up to 16 years for juvenile consideration, there would be terrorists under the age group of 14-16 who can come and do Mumbai like acts killing hundreds of the people.

How law would apply to them? As per various media reports, already terrorist groups across our borders are preparing commandos of age group 14-17, so that if captured can be get rid of severe punishment due to Juvenile justice system. Ajmal Kasab too claimed initially that he is a minor. It's the medical test which proved that Kasab is little older than 18 years and hence could be punished. We all are witnessing how the juvenile rapist of Nirbhaya saved taking advantage of the age based juvenile act.

I think we must have two age limits. First is the age of 12 where even though some have attained maturity, but physically are not able to carry out severe crimes such as rape, mass murder, terrorist activities etc. Thus, upto this age, they may be really treated as purely juvenile and justice should be done with an intention to reform them.

Those who are above 12 but within 18, they also can be treated as juvenile examining their maturity level. In any case for severe crimes such as rape, murder, terrorism etc, they would be treated like major and no way can be under the scope of juvenile courts. Such cases should be treated at par with all major citizens (above age of 18).

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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