In a rare case, a 12-year-old has been sentenced to three months of community service by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) at LB Nagar in Hyderabad on Saturday. The JJB convicted the minor for the sexual assault of a five-year-old girl in 2015.
This is the second such instance this week, where the courts in Hyderabad have convicted a minor. Earlier this week, the Nampally court awarded life sentence to a now 19-year-old for the sodomy and murder of a 10-year-old boy when the accused was 17. Former members of the now-defunct State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) in Telangana, say that the practice of awarding harsh sentences to minors poses a worrying trend with no checks or balances to ensure that the rights of minors, even if guilty, are still protected.
The SCPCR is a statutory body under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act set up in December 2005, and operates under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The Commission has been defunct in Telangana from 2017.
In this particular crime, the 12-year-old boy had lured the 5-year-old girl with chocolates and sexually assaulted her at a parking lot. The case was registered at Saroor Nagar police station under the Rachakonda commissionerate.
The JJB directed the minor to do three months of community service and to undergo counselling for a period of three months. The parents of the convicted minor were directed to pay a fine of Rs.5,000.
"This is a very rare conviction, so as not to ruin the life of the minor, the JJB has given a community service type of conviction," points out Revathi Devi, a former member of the SCPCR who raised her concerns about the life sentence being handed out to the 19-year-old accused in the sodomy and murder case. "The accused was a minor when the crime was committed and it should have been treated as a crime by a minor. The Juvenile Justice Act only prescribes a maximum of up to three years in jail," she added.
In 2017, the now 19-year-old accused had lured a 10-year-old boy, sodomised him and murdered the child using an iron rod. The body of the child was found 10 days later at the top of a government school terrace. The police nabbed the accused upon reviewing the CCTV footage.
"This case should have been treated the same way like how the minor in the Nirbhaya case was treated," argues another former member of the SCPCR, Achutha Rao.
Revathi is of the view that the trend of harsher sentencing being awarded to minors is because there is no one to protect their interest in the state. "The role of the police is only to investigate and collect evidence. But for the rights of children to be protected, district authorities, school officials and counsellors have to come together. The teachers play a huge role in changing the mentality of children by introducing gender sensitisation and sex education in classes," she added.
The members say that they had planned such programmes in 2017 across schools in the state, before the state government released a GO calling for interview of new members. The SCPCR, however, has been defunct since and no new members have been appointed.