New Delhi: On 17 January this year, an eight-year- old girl was found dead in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district, after being raped by eight men, one of whom—apparently a juvenile—orchestrated her kidnapping and ultimately killed her, as per the chargesheet filed by the Crime Branch (Jammu).

Six years ago, on 16 December 2012, following a 23-year-old woman’s torture and gangrape aboard a bus in the National Capital, a juvenile was accused of inflicting maximum damage on the woman, who died of her injuries.

Now the Kathua rape case has brought back the focus on crimes against women committed by juveniles.

As per the chargesheet filed by the Crime Branch at Jammu, “the JCL (juvenile in contravention with the law) informed… that he had committed gangrape with the accused (name withheld) inside Devisthan… As accused Deepak Khajuria was unsuccessful in killing her, accused JCL killed her by pressing her knees against her back and strangulated the girl by applying force on both the ends of her chunni."

The state police now awaits the lower court’s decision on whether he will be tried under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000 or whether under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

There are questions over whether he is a juvenile at all.

“The boy had claimed that he was a juvenile and we have got the medical test conducted which has stated that he is above 18 years of age. It is now under consideration by the court. Once the court comes to a decision, we will take a call on his trial and see whether or not he will be tried as an adult. The police’s investigation stands completed as of now," Jammu and Kashmir director general of police S.P Vaid told Mint.

Senior officials stated that juveniles were bolstered by the tacit support extended to them by rights groups.

“In the 16 December gangrape case (Nirbhaya) as well, the juvenile was the most aggressive and heinous of the group. He was shielded by child rights activists who did not want him to be harmed. Instead they wanted him to get a second chance at reformation. Given the magnitude of his crime, he got away scot-free," said a government official familiar with the case, who did not want to be identified.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of 2017, in 2016, 1,970 cases were registered across India against juveniles for raping, gang raping and attempting to rape women, with Madhya Pradesh recording the highest number of 442 cases.

In 2015, 33,433 juvenile crime cases were registered across India against 35,849 cases registered in 2016.

Experts also stated that societal cushioning further emboldened juvenile rapists.

“Juveniles indulge in heinous crime like rape because of the impunity that persists in our system. They think they can get away. Due to the insensitive criminal justice system and political class that are responsible for creating this ‘rape culture’ rapists are getting emboldened," said Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research.

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