Comment: Juvenile crime – the consequences are anything but minor

This article was first published in the Police Life. Republished with permission.

Anyone below the legal age of 18 is seen as a minor in the eyes of the law in the Maldives. As such, their parents are their guardians and it is believed that they have certain leniencies afforded to them.

This is reflected in the increasing trend of juvenile crime in the Maldives. The underlying logic behind this trend seems to be that minors cannot be persecuted by the law and they would somehow avoid harmful consequences.

But this is a total misconception – while there are leniencies, they are not without limits, and are intended to offer a chance for the youth to redeem themselves or to turn their lives around at an early stage.

According to Maldivian law, any juvenile offender will only receive one third of the sentence – for example, a sentence of 15 years in prison maybe reduced to 5 years instead. Though this leniency exists, it is by no means a way to walk away without consequences. The individual will be monitored for a long period of time.

Another misunderstood leniency is one that is offered only to individuals committing their first offense. Depending on the nature of the crime, there is a delaying of carrying out the sentence for a set period of time. This is done to give the first offender a chance of redemption. But this leniency comes with certain terms and conditions.

One of the conditions is that if any additional crimes are committed during the set duration the sentence is delayed, the sentences for both crimes would be carried out together – for example, if a 5 year sentence for a crime was delayed from passing and the individual committed another crime that resulted in a 5 year sentence, they would get a 10 year sentence.

If the set duration passes without any criminal activity, the first offender is pardoned. But this is a leniency offered once and only once. Any further criminal activity from the same individual will not be afforded any such leniency.

Another thing to consider is that even if it is a first offense, the type of crime committed is also an important deciding factor. If it is a serious crime such as murder, the aforementioned leniency will not be afforded.

When talking about juvenile offenders, it is also important to shed some light on what is known as the “community conference”. It is a group of professionals and related individuals who come together to assess the progress of the minor to deem whether they are fit to continue being part of the society.

The conference contains the juvenile offender themselves, their parent/s, a judge, a prosecutor from the Prosecutor General’s Office, a representative of the FCPD (Family and Child Protection Department) of the Maldives Police Service and a representative from the Juvenile Justice Unit.

They come together to discuss the progress of the youth in terms of rehabilitation, trends in behaviour, risk factors and also to assist the youth in their re-entry and reintegration into society.

The ongoing misconception that because the youth of the nation are a protected and cherished group, they are exempt from consequences is a very harmful one. It results in many “at-risk” youth opting to delve into criminal behaviour and because it allows other, older individuals who are involved in criminal behaviour to exploit these minors for various criminal endeavors.

But the sad truth is that such thinking often results in many youth with untapped potential getting caught up in criminal or anti-social behaviour and paying a hefty price for it.

While there are leniencies to protect our youth, they are there to afford them chances of redemption and to give them the opportunity to better themselves while they still have time. Said leniencies are also not limitless and come with various terms and conditions that must be met. The goal is rehabilitation and crime prevention rather than simply punishment.

So it is important to always remember that even juvenile crime is not without consequence.

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