Missing Juvenile justice

The Faizan case has once again highlighted, not just the brutality of a democratic state in accusing a boy of 11 years age of waging a war against the State, but also the multiple lacunae that Jammu and Kashmir is faced with in dealing with its juvenile justice system. The only two juvenile homes at Harwan in Kashmir and Miransahib in Jammu are not something that would be compatible with the requirement of such a facility. A proper juvenile home should be aimed at providing its inmates a dignified living, education, guidance in both vocational skills and moral values to enable the juvenile offenders to return back to normal life, once they have served their terms in such homes catering to their special needs.

The two juvenile homes came up in a hurried, knee jerk response to the severe criticism of the government two year ago, not in keeping with an adequate law, or even a plan. Infact, the government still does not have an effective law to deal with juvenile delinquency.

Despite an obligation to treat anybody under the age of 18 as a minor, the government continues to treat such minors as adult criminals and detains them in regular jails, often with hardcore criminals. The absence of an appropriate law encourages this disability of the state’s police force to distinguish between adult crime and juvenile delinquency, both of which need to be deemed and treated quite differently. Unlike the national Juvenile Justice Act 2000, Jammu and Kashmir’s archaic juvenile justice laws are not in keeping with the international standards. The national Juvenile Justice Act 2000 is the primary legal framework for juvenile justice in the country and was brought in compliance with international child rights conventions.

Though, it is a fact that even on the national scene, there has not been much perceptible change in the plight of the minors who are caught by the long arms of the law, sometimes guilty of petty crimes and sometimes completely innocent, yet the law on its own provides certain safeguards. The 2000 law provides for a special approach for the protection and treatment of juvenile delinquency and provides framework for the protection, treatment and rehabilitation of children in the purview of the juvenile justice system. An equivalent law, however simply does not exist even though after the summer of 2010, with teenagers being the worst hit whether they were killed or detained in jails, there has been enough pressure on the state government to come up with a relevant juvenile justice law. The government, after much lip sympathy, has finally decided to abandon the pursuit of drafting such a law whose focus should be to reform delinquent juveniles, rather than imprison and punish them.

But it is not an effective law alone that is sufficient to bring in a sense of justice for minors at the receiving end. This is not only because there is a vast difference between the rules and the action, as is apparent from the national example. Rather, it is due to a prevailing mindset to treat the entire population of Jammu and Kashmir with suspicion, especially those from the Valley, the children obviously are not an exception, rather the most hunted down ever since large numbers of youngsters have been descended on the streets of Kashmir Valley in protest, with or without a stone. Youngsters have also been picked up and detained for circulating their views on the internet, mostly through social networking sites.

The government appears to be moved by the motto of ‘catch them young’ while treating the entire population as an enemy. The Faizan case demonstrates this beyond a shadow of doubt that the State is so badly caught in the grip of a severe paranoia that if it catches on camera a minor holding or pelting a stone at any of its security agencies, it must be a deemed as a ‘war against the nation’. While the juvenile justice law needs to be updated, it is the mindset that needs to be reformed first of all.