Infusing Morality Into Juveniles
Finally, the Juvenile Justice (Amendment) Bill, 2015, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 22, 2015, lowering the age of a legally defined juvenile from 18 to 16. The bill allows for juveniles 16 years or older to be tried as adults for heinous offences like rape and murder. It is worth mentioning that heinous offences are those which are punishable with imprisonment of seven years or more. If juveniles are sentenced to jail, they will be sent to a juvenile reformatory until they become 21 years old, after which there will be a review. So this law, in a sense, will strengthen provisions for both children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law. For, one should not forget the fact that India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child. The provisions provide for placing children in a place of safety both during and after the trial till they attain the age of 21, after which an evaluation of the juvenile shall be conducted by the court. The decision to try a juvenile of 16 years or older as an adult will be taken by the Juvenile Justice Board, which will have a judicial magistrate and two social workers as members. Here it is to be noted that in this winter session of the Parliament, one witnessed only disruptions, particularly in the Rajya Sabha. What is more tormenting is the fact that when the Rajya Sabha was passing the Juvenile Justice (Amendment) Bill, the CPI(M) staged a walkout, seeking the Bill to be sent to a Select Committee. Seen in this perspective, besides tarnishing the credibility of the Parliament, frequent disruptions by the Opposition have caused undue loss to the exchequer.
Now, this Bill will help in reining in the rising number of juvenile crimes. This is substantiated by the fact that there were 31,973 juvenile crimes in India in 2012. This number jumped to 38,565 in 2014. This information was divulged by the government in reply to a Lok Sabha question on December 22, 2015, citing National Crime Records Bureau data. The report said that 55.6 per cent of the juveniles apprehended in 2014 belonged to families with an annual income up to Rs 25,000, up from 50.2 per cent in 2013 and 52.8 per cent in 2012. While 22 per cent of the juveniles apprehended last year had an annual family income between Rs 25,001 and Rs 50,000, 14.2 per cent belonged to the Rs 50,001-Rs 1 lakh family income category, 5 per cent to the Rs 1 lakh-2 lakh category and 1.6 per cent to the Rs 2 lakh-Rs 3 lakh category. Apprehended juveniles with an annual family income of over Rs 3 lakh were below 1 per cent. Having said this, I concur with the fact that laws and punishment must be more to reform the individual than to punish.
Against this backdrop, it is high time we focussed on future generation. They should not be influenced by the western lifestyle, which infused into them a sense of materialism rather than morality. We should not go blindly after the western education system, which does not instil moral education into the younger education. Rather we should opt for the traditional gurukul system, which inculcates moral education among the students and lays emphasis on respecting and obeying our elders. In this perspective, it cannot be gainsaid that by putting our elders in old-age home, we are preventing our younger generation from getting anchored in our time-tested ethos. For this to happen, we will have to do away with the nuclear family system, prevalent now. In fact, imparting moral education should be a national movement for creating schools that foster ethical, responsible and caring young people by modelling and teaching good character through emphasis on universal values that we all share. They should instil in their students important core ethical values such as caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility and respect for self and others. One should not forget that moral education is not a “quick fix”. It provides long-term solutions that address moral, ethical and academic issues of growing concern to our society. In this way, moral education should contribute not only to the children, but also to the social cohesion of our society.