Juvenile Justice & Capital Punishment: A Juxtaposition

Juvenile Justice & Capital Punishment: A Juxtaposition

Author: Erathi Anudeep
III Year | Amity University, Mumbai

History of Juvenile Justice:

The Juvenile Justice System (JJS) in India has its roots in the Apprentice Act of 1850. It dealt with children in the age group of 10 to 18 years who committed petty offences or were discovered transient [1].

Before the development of the JJS, the criminal courts tried and charged children for offences committed by them as equivalent to adults. The distinction between offences committed by an adult and a child was only introduced after the 1800s. In this manner, the very first juvenile court was set up in the United States of America at Illinois in 1899 [2]. The primary juvenile establishments worked under the doctrine of ‘Parens Patriae’, implying that a state could pose as a parent of the country.

The U.Ss’ Apex Court verdict in Furman v. Georgia [3] observed that capital punishments for all age groups were forced discretionarily, wantonly, and shockingly. Justice Potter Stewart in this case remarked that capital punishment abused the Eighteen Amendment. The decision essentially struck down all capital punishment resolutions that existed at that point. However, it still permitted the domains to make new, less biased laws. More than 30 states established resolutions that would pass the legal marshal. The advancement of capital punishment began and by 1974, young people indeed showed up on death row.

International Norms:

Juvenile Justice did not attract prominence until late 1900. However, it has now become a region of law that contains the greatest number of enactments and international settlements. JJS centres around the offences committed by juveniles and protects them from any misuse of the law. With the expansion in protection and privileges of children, States have embraced measures to shield the interest of the Juveniles.

In Roper v. Simmons [4], Christopher Simmons, age 17, planned to rob a woman’s home and kill her. He, along with two of his companions, prepared for the crime. Nonetheless, a day before committing the crime, one of his associates quit the plan. Simmons and his companion broke into the woman’s home, tied her hands, and threw her over the bridge. In this case, the jury found him guilty of the crime and suggested capital punishment.

But, in 2015, the Apex Court of the US ruled capital punishment unlawful for individuals below 18 years. They overruled the 1989 Stanford v. Kentucky case [5], which allowed the death penalty for offenders who were over the age of 16 years.

UN Convention on Child Rights:

The two articles of the UN Convention on Child Rights identify with the circumstance of children in struggle with the law: Article 37 on Torture and Deprivation of Liberty [6] and Article 40 on the Administration of Juvenile Justice [7].

Article 37 emphasizes that no kid shall be subjected to torment, cruel, inhuman treatment, or punishment. Death penalty and life imprisonment, without any chance of release, are denied for juvenile offenders. Any child deprived of freedom will have to be isolated from adults except if it is considered to be to their benefit not to do so. Such children will be provided with legal amenities and facilities to contact their families.

Article 40 mentions that a child in conflict with the law is to be treated in a manner that is consistent with their dignity and worth. It requires that the State should provide and issue orders w.r.t care, guidance, and supervision along with counselling of such children.

International Covenants on Juvenile Justice framework:

International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights, 1966 [8] states – “5. Sentence of death will not be forced for crimes perpetrated by people under 18 years and will not be carried out on pregnant women.”

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, 1985, also called the Beijing rules, propagate for securing the prosperity of children.

The United Nations Rules for Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, 1990, also known as the Havana Rules, set out the norm for the administration of the Juvenile Justice framework.

Juvenile Justice System in India:

Under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, it is only the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) that has the power to decide whether an offence committed by a juvenile is heinous or not.

Earlier, Juvenile courts used to enjoy the discretion in deciding when to defer cases to criminal courts but now it lies in the hands of JJB to decide on this issue. Further, Juveniles are qualified for a hearing, representation by counsel and access to data whereupon the waiver choice is based, and an assertion of reasons supporting the waiver choice. The court additionally spread-out various elements which the Juvenile Judge needs to consider while pronouncing punishments.

Elements the Juvenile Judges need to keep in mind:
  • The seriousness and type of offense committed keeping in mind the brutality (if any).
  • It is important to consider the Juvenile’s background, socio-economic condition, and mental state while pronouncing judgement.
  • Consider the criminal record or history.
  • The possibilities for ensuring the protection of the public and reintegrating the juvenile.


An ‘eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’. To remove capital punishment permanently, there first needs to be a change in the mindset of society. People need to understand that death is not a justified solution. It won’t avenge or pacify the pain caused.

While the criminal is a threat to society, he too is a piece of that very society. Hence, a chance to improve, repent and reform one’s life should be an available option. Since executions have been the standard since the days of yore, States are hesitant to move past this standard. Additionally, taking this huge stride requires great political will.

A kid, regardless of his or her gender, learns from his family the contrast between right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and non-acceptable. There are mental, physiological, and individual variables that are liable for adolescent wrongdoing, alongside various other factors. For example, peer pressure, socio-economic condition, trauma, violent upbringing etc.

It is important to paint a bigger picture and make people aware. Instil in people the importance of reformation and how it can help mend people to lead a better life than putting them on death row.

[1] Gaurav Mohunta, Juvenility Determines Juvenile Justice: A Comparative Analysis – India And USA, LAW FINDER LIVE, (June 15th, 2021, 12:27 PM) https://www.lawfinderlive.com/Articles-1/Article28.htm

[2] History of the Juvenile Justice System, FINDLAW, (June 20th, 2021, 4:43 PM) https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/juvenile-justice/development-of-the-juvenile-justice-system.html

[3] Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)

[4] Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)

[5] Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989)

[6] Article 37, Torture and Deprivation of Liberty, CRIN, (June 20th, 2021, 4:59 PM) https://archive.crin.org/en/home/rights/convention/articles/article-37-torture-and-deprivation-liberty.html

[7] Article 40, Administration of Juvenile Justice, CRIN, (June 20th, 2021, 5:00 PM) https://archive.crin.org/en/home/rights/convention/articles/article-40-administration-juvenile-justice.html

[8] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, (May 29, 2021, 05:15 pm), https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/1976/03/19760323%2006-17%20AM/Ch_IV_04.pdf.

Editor: Anukriti Prakash

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