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Treating juvenile criminals as adult? India's 44%, especially poor, born in 2000 weren't registered on birth

By Our Representative
The controversial law Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, which came into force last month, may have paved the way for juveniles between 16 and 18 to be tried as adults for heinous crimes. But an expert data analysis of the Civil Registration System has revealed that just about 56.2 per cent of India’s births were registered in 2000.
This means that it would be virtually impossible to determine the age of 44 per cent of those who may have born around 2000, the analysis points out, adding, it is a “major challenge now will be to establish the age of the juveniles.”
Bringing this to light, a top data analysis site believes, this makes the “disadvantages children” particularly vulnerable – as poor parents, more than the middle and upper class parents, do not bother register.
“As many as 78 per cent of Indian juveniles are from families with annual incomes less than Rs 50,000 per annum, and 53 per cent of juveniles are either illiterate or educated till primary school”, the site points out.
Interestingly, in 2000, the five states with the lowest rates of birth registration were Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Assam and Madhya Pradesh, respectively, and in 2014, MP, Bihar and Rajasthan were among the top five states registering juvenile-crime cases, the site points out.
Human rights activists and a section of advocates believe, the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 was passed under populist pressure, pointing to how the reduction of age for the juveniles from 18 to 16 years is contrary to the conventions signed by Government of India in protecting childhood.
Emphasis, it is suggested, must be made on reformation rather than punishing children by putting them behind bars.

Nirbhaya case

The impossibility to determine age for such a huge population has come even as the
“The December 16, 2012 gang-rape, known as the Nirbhaya case, is an example. Since his birth certificate wasn’t available, the age of the juvenile accused in the rape was taken to be 17 years, 6 months and 12 days by the Juvenile Justice Board, which relied on a certificate provided by a government school in his hometown Badaun, where he studied”, the analysis says.
Interestingly, it is the school’s principal, who had deposed before the Board, had entered June 4, 1995 as the teen’s date of birth”, the site says, adding, the principal was quoted as saying, “On the day he joined, we asked the boy’s father when the child was born, and we were told it was either six or seven years ago”.
The site says, “The teen’s mother wasn’t sure of his age either.” She is quoted as saying that she did “not know his birth date, had “no idea regarding either the day or date of admission.”
In 2001, commenting on India’s poor birth registration rate, UNICEF India, said: “Unregistered children are generally the children of the poor and the excluded. An unregistered child will be a more attractive target for a child trafficker and does not have even the minimal protection that a birth certificate provides against early marriage, child labour, or detention and persecution as an adult.”

Bone-ossification

There are, of course, medical methods to determine age, and one of the most common is the bone-ossification test, which involves X-rays of all major limb bones, including pelvic, shoulder, elbow, knee, ankle, thigh and wrist, the site says, though quoting Dr Harsh Mahajan, president of the Indian Radiology Association as saying, the method has its “limitations” and it only gives “the age within a range of two to three years.”
“Permission for the bone-ossification test is also tough to get. For instance, in the Nirbhaya case, the Juvenile Justice Board had denied repeated police requests for the test, since the juvenile’s school mark-sheet mentioned his age”, the site points out.
Even now, the site says, the birth registration rate not 100 per cent. “It has increased from 56.2 per cent in 2000 to 85.6 per cent in 2013, but for those whose births escaped official registries, involvement in crime is likely to be a fraught exercise”, the site underlines.

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