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Juveniles and Rape: Disease demands diagnosis first, cure next

Today, the Juvenile Justice Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill proposes that 16- to 18-year-olds in conflict with the law, be tried as adults in case of heinous crimes.

In most key decisions, we value expert opinion because there’s someone who knows more than us. Today, we’re ignoring what those who know the topic well, are saying. We’re discussing psychology and sociology but we ignore what psychologists and sociologists are saying. We’re discussing children but we’re ignoring what child experts are saying. Why do we even have psychology as a discipline if we can’t listen to it when it has a role to play in our lawmaking?

We’re only listening to what our agitated tempers are saying: and public emotions are not the most reliable tool in making long-term decisions. The amendment is an aftermath of one case and one victim, but it will impact thousands of cases every year, each with their own story and circumstances that we do not even know of today. And so, what I write below must not be taken in the context of one victim, one case and one kind of crime.

1. Children learn faster and become capable to do more in this day and age because of a reason: greater access to technology and information. It is impossible and unscientific to believe that this technology also impacts their skills of judgement and decision-making – skills which are rooted in our nervous system.

Today, a child definitely knows much earlier what he is doing and what the consequences might be, but how can a 16-year-old have the judgement skills of a 20-year-old?

Saying that the child psychology has changed with time and hence the law must change, is like saying society and culture impact our nervous system as well!

An expert opinion here:

2. There is an allegation against those like me who have a pro-juvenile stand: that they are concerned more about the culprit than about the victim. If we continue looking at the effect and not look into the root cause, how can we ever solve an issue? India’s Daughter was largely criticized at first instinct when it emerged that it had the interview of a rapist. But it gradually got praise – understanding the rapist is the first priority if we actually want to solve the problem. Prevention is better than cure, and if we continue curing the victim’s angst instead of studying the culprit mind, we can’t wipe the problem from earth. Discarding the culprit as an animal who deserves to be hanged, and then turning to console the victim, only perpetuates the crime: because notwithstanding our metaphor skills, they are actually NOT animals, they exist, and that’s why they continue to give us pain. Treat the culprit as a human who should be punished as per law, but understand him too, so that we can address the root cause and prevent crime. Disease demands diagnosis first, cure next.

A “pro-criminal” stand is neither PRO-criminal nor is it disregard to justice or punishment. It is simply the act of understanding all stakeholders in a situation.

3. Our children are wronged every single day, and most juveniles in conflict with law are themselves victims of the society. Having taught disadvantaged kids for two years, I have seen how family, community and education impact mindsets related to gender, class, violence and religion very strongly at a young age, and can lead to crime. And the state’s primary task is not to punish those who it failed to do justice to, but to accept its mistake and try to reform them with best possible psychological assistance. A society seeks justice – a victim is only a part of it. Let’s look at the bigger picture.

4. There’s an argument running around, which suggests that getting 3 years of care home is a reward, and kids between 16 and 18 would have taken some kind of “advantage” of the flaw in the law. A punishment is a punishment, and 3 years is definitely some kind of a deterrent in itself.

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