Towards a comprehensive Juvenile Justice law

Ques. “Besides crimes committed by juveniles, violence against them is also emerging as an important issue which needs to be redressed by strengthening the existing provisions”, while critically analysing the given statement describe the major recent amendment by the government to address the concerning issue.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act is the primary legal framework for juvenile justice in India. The Act provides for a special approach towards the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency and provides a framework for the protection, treatment and rehabilitation of children in the purview of the juvenile justice system.

The Act has been criticised as it gives licence to all matured, cruel type of persons under the age of 18 years to live with full impunity and commit any crime of any level and walk scot free only on the basis of their age being less than 18 years and being covered under the Act. Recent 16 December 2012 Gang rape incident in Delhi has raised a popular demand for amending this law to allow harsher punishments to children involved in serious offences. As per the National Crime Records Bureau statistics as many as 1,884 juveniles were involved in rape cases in 2013. Besides crimes committed by juveniles, violence against them is also emerging as an important issue which needs to be redressed by strengthening the existing provisions. Protracted inter-country adoption procedures in the existing JJ Act need urgent legislative resolution. While personal laws allow specific communities to adopt, other persons can become guardians only under an archaic Guardians and Wards Act, 1890. A secular gender-neutral adoption law for all people is required.

Broad amendments by the government of India (JJ Bill, 2014):

  • The Government of India is now contemplating re-enacting a new JJ Act, 2014, for which a review committee has been constituted under the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
  • The JJ Bill, 2014, seeks to enact a law by consolidating and amending the law relating to children who are in need of care and protection. It seeks to cater to their developmental needs through proper care, protection and treatment by adopting a child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposal of matters, and for rehabilitation through processes provided and institutions established under the proposed new enactment.
  • Government is emphasising on the major concerning issues such as inadequate facilities, quality of care and rehabilitation measures in private and government-run children homes; delays in various processes under the JJ Act; delays in inter-country adoption process under CARA; and inadequate provisions to deal with offences against children, among others.
  • The new JJ Bill, 2014, provides for application of the proposed Act in: cases involving detention, prosecution or penalty of imprisonment; matters relating to apprehension, production before court, disposal orders and restoration, procedures and decisions related to adoption of children, and rehabilitation and reintegration of children who are in conflict with law or, as the case may be, in need of care and protection under other such law.
  • In the entire proposed Bill, The word ‘juvenile’ has been replaced with the word ‘child’ and the expression ‘juvenile in conflict with the law’ has been changed to ‘child in conflict with law.
  • The Bill incorporates internationally accepted principles of presumption of innocence, dignity and worth, family responsibility, non-stigmatising semantics, privacy and confidentiality, repatriation and restoration, equality and non-discrimination, and diversion and natural justice, among others. Institutionalisation is suggested as a measure of last resort — juveniles are to institutionalised only if no other family-based care option is possible or available.
  • A new procedure for handling children in conflict with law has been proposed. A revamped Child Welfare Committee has been identified, empowered and given statutory functions. Mandatory registration of childcare institutions has been provided. Observation, shelter and special homes may be established by State governments.
  • The proposed Bill also prohibits the media from disclosing the identity of children or propagating any such information which would lead to identifying them. All reports relating to children are to be treated as confidential. Corporal punishment and ragging, cruelty to children, employment of children for begging, adoption without proper procedure, and sale or procurement of children for any purpose are all acts that are punishable under the draft Bill.

Therefore the bill provides a comprehensive mechanism to deal with children in conflict with law as well as children who are in need of care and protection. However, only a stringent implementation can provide a meaningful disposition to make it a true letter of law.

As per the statistics of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), only 1.2% of the entire FIRs filled have juveniles involved in them. As per the Juvenile data of 2011, of the total juveniles detained under various acts, 6122 (18%) were illiterate, 12803 (38%) were educated till primary, 10519 (31%) were non matriculate and 4443 (13%) were matriculate. This shows how education plays an important role in the behaviours of the children and this fact is not being stressed upon. The society has to be more sensitive towards adolescents and for this, the government has to act proactively in rehabilitate such children and curb crime at grassroots level rather than getting reactive with stringent punishments pushing them to the wall.

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