If the Centre needs any justification to amend the Juvenile Justice Act and change the age of juvenile offenders to 18 years from the current 16 years, the statistics by the National Crime Records Bureau about sex crimes should be able to provide it.
In 2000, 198 cases of rapes committed by juveniles were reported. Incidentally, in the same year, the Centre changed the age definition of a juvenile from 16 to 18 years.
In 2011, as many as 1,149 cases of rapes by juveniles were reported.
While the number of rape cases has jumped by 180 per cent in 13 years, other crimes involving juveniles have also witnessed a multi-fold jump of nearly 70 per cent.
While 9,000 cases of crime by juvenile offenders were reported in 2000, 16,000 such cases were reported in 2001, after the definition of a juvenile's age was changed.
A juvenile offender who commits a grievous crime gets the chance to walk away after serving the minimum possible sentence.
For example, the juvenile rapist in the Delhi incident, if found guilty, will only have to spend a three-year 'reformative period' at a remand home. According to the police, the 17-year-old was responsible for inflicting the most brutal injuries on the victim, who subsequently died of organ failure on December 29.
The changes in the Juvenile Justice Act were made in 2000 as per the recommendations of the United Nations Child Convention. The UN Convention believed that a person below the age of 18 years could be reformed and therefore deserved a second chance.
While many human rights organisations would argue against lowering the age of a juvenile, legal experts point out the astonishing rise in the number of crimes committed by them as a reason to amend the law. These experts also argue that crimes like murder and rape cannot be termed as 'acts of innocence'.
They also point out that underworld gangs may be employing juveniles to carry out brutal crimes, as they know that even if the offenders are nabbed, they would get off with a light sentence.
Juveniles are hired as hit men or shooters to carry out gang hits. While an adult offender would have been sentenced to life imprisonment or death, these juvenile criminals only have to spend a couple of years in a remand home for their crime.
A petition was filed before the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape and a response from the Union government was sought on this issue.
The central government, which is preparing its response to the plea, may not agree to change the law entirely. It may change the definition of a juvenile for the most heinous crimes and initiate a debate on the provision of sending offenders to a remand home instead of prison.