Juvenile Justice Act

SEP 16

Mains   > Social justice   >   Government Policies   >   Women and Child issues

WHY IN NEWS

  • In July 2021, the Parliament of India passed an amendment bill to strengthen the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

STATISTICS:

  • Incidence of crime:
    • The total number of children arrested rose from 33,642 in 2009 to 38,685 in 2019, an increase of 15%.
    • Children in the 16-18 years’ age group account for majority of children arrested.
  • Pendency:
    • Pendency of cases of juveniles in conflict with law has increased over the years from 43% in 2009 to 51% in 2019
    • The total number of convictions decreased from 52% in 2009 to 43% in 2019, whereas acquittals remained below 10%.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS FOR CHILD WELFARE:

  • Article 15(3):
    • Empowers the state to make special provisions related to the empowerment of women and children.
  • Article 39 (e):
    • Directs the state to ensure that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength
  • Article 39 (f):
    • Directs the state to ensure that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment
  • Article 45:
    • Directs the state to ensure provisions for free and compulsory education for children.
  • Article 47:
    • Directs the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health as among its primary duties.

HISTORY OF JUVENILE JUSTICE IN INDIA:

  • The first proper intervention by the government of India in justice for children was via the National Children’s Act, 1960.
  • This act was replaced later with Juvenile Justice Act, 1986.
  • In 1992, India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). To adapt to the standards of the convention, the 1986 act was repealed and the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 was passed.
  • The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 dealt with two categories of children viz. ‘child in conflict with law’ and ‘child in need of care and protection'.
  • The involvement of a minor in the heinous crimes in ‘Nirbhaya case’ forced the government to introduce a new law and thus the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 was introduced.

FEATURES OF JUVENILE JUSTICE ACT, 2015:

  • Background:
    • The Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, replaced the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000
    • The Act aims to consolidate and amend the law relating to children alleged and found to be in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection by catering to their basic needs.
    • The Act introduced many changes to the existing law to make the juvenile justice system more responsive to the changing circumstances of society.
    • The Act changes nomenclature from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with law’, across the Act to remove the negative connotation associated with the word “juvenile”.
  • Offences committed by a juvenile are categorized into three:
    • 'Heinous offence'
      • It is offence with minimum punishment of seven years of imprisonment or more.
      • Juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years will be tried as adults for heinous offences.
    • 'Serious offence'
      • They are offences with three to seven years of imprisonment.
      • Any 16-18 years old, who commits a serious offence may be tried as an adult. But this is only if he/she is detained after the age of 21 years.
    • 'Petty offence'
      • It is with a less than three-year imprisonment.
  • Juvenile Justice Boards
    • The Act mandates setting up Juvenile Justice Boards in every district.
    • This is a judiciary body before which children detained or accused of a crime are brought.
    • This acts as a separate court for juveniles since they are not to be taken to a regular criminal court.
    • The Board comprises of a judicial magistrate of the first class and two social workers, one of whom at least should be a woman.
    • The Board is meant to be a child-friendly place and not intimidating for the child
  • Child Welfare Committees:
    • The Act mandates State Governments to set up Child Welfare Committees in every district
    • The Committees have the power to dispose of cases for the care, protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of the children in need of care and protection, as well as to provide for their basic needs and protection.
    • It must have at least one-woman member each.
  • Children in Conflict with Law:
    • The 'Juvenile' in conflict with law has been redefined in the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 as a 'child‘ in conflict with law.
    • A child in conflict with law will be sent to an Observation Home temporarily during pendency of inquiry.
    • A child who is found to have committed an offence by the Juvenile Justice Board will be placed in a Special Home.
    • The preliminary assessment by the Juvenile Justice Board is to be conducted within three months before transferring the case to the Children‘s Court.
    • The Act mandates that in case the child is tried as an adult by the Children‘s Court, it shall ensure that the final order includes an individual care plan for the rehabilitation of child, including follow up by the probation officer or the District Child Protection Unit or a social worker.
  • Children in Need of Care and Protection:
    • A child in need of care and protection is to be produced before the Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours.
    • The Act provides for mandatory reporting of a child found separated from his/her guardian. Non- reporting has been treated as a punishable offence.
    • The Child Welfare Committee is to send the child in need of care and protection to the appropriate Child Care Institution and direct a Social Worker, Case Worker or the Child Welfare Officer to conduct the social investigation within 15 days.
    • A child in need of care and protection will be placed in a Children‘s Home for care, treatment, education, training, development and rehabilitation.
    • The Act provides for Open Shelters for Children in need of community support on short term basis for protecting them from abuse or keeping them away from a life on the streets.
  • Offences against the children
    • An entire chapter (Chapter IX) is devoted to deal with offenses against children.
  • Institutional Care:
    • The Child Care Institutions in respect of children in conflict with law are the Observation Home, Special Home, Place of Safety and fit facility.
    • For children in need of care and protection, Open Shelters, Children Home and Special Adoption Agencies have specific roles to play.
    • All child care institutions, whether run by State Government or by voluntary or non-governmental organisations, which are meant, either wholly or partially for housing children, regardless of whether they receive grants from the Government, are to be mandatorily registered under the Act within 6 months from the date of commencement of the Act.
  • Adoption:
    • Chapter VIII is devoted to the subject of adoption of children.
    • The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) was granted the status of a statutory body to enable it to perform its function more effectively.
  • Monitoring:
    • The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights as well as State Commission for Protection of Child Rights are mandated to monitor the implementation of the provisions of the JJ Act, 2015

AMENDMENTS IN 2021:

  • JJ Act, 2015 states that adoption of a child is final on the issuance of an adoption order by the civil court.
  • The amendment empowers the District Magistrates (DM) to issue adoption orders as well as monitor the implementation of the law.
  • Amendment also states that DMs along with additional district magistrates (ADMs) will monitor the functioning of various agencies under the JJ Act in every district.
    • This includes the Child Welfare Committees, the Juvenile Justice Boards, the District Child Protection Units and the Special juvenile Protection Units.

ISSUES:

  • Concerns over trial of juveniles as adults:
    • The provision of trying a juvenile committing a serious or heinous offence as an adult based on date of apprehension could violate the Article 14 and Article 21
    • The provision also counters the spirit of Article 20(1) by according a higher penalty for the same offence, if the person is apprehended after 21 years of age.
    • Some argue that the current law does not act as a deterrent for juveniles committing heinous crimes.
  • Violate Convention on the Rights of the Child:
    • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all signatory countries to treat every child under the age of 18 years as equal.
    • The provision of trying a juvenile as an adult contravenes the Convention.
  • Shift of accountability:
    • Privatisation, a tenet of the neoliberal era, has also impacted the juvenile justice system, which has also resulted in a shift in the accountability of the functionaries of privately-run child care institutions (CCIs).
  • Issues with child care institutions
    • As of March 2020, there are around 2,000 CCIs across India.
    • The Committee on review exercise of CCIs (2018) noted that many CCIs fail to provide even the basic services to the children including individual bedding, and proper nutrition and diet.
    • Not even a single CCI in the country was found to be 100% compliant to the Act’s provisions.
    • The Committee also noted that despite registration being mandatory under the 2015 Act, only 32% of total CCIs across the country were registered.
  • Inherent failure of our social system:
    • As per the 2018 ‘Crime in India’ report, about 85% of the apprehended juveniles lived with their parents, which clearly reflects an inherent failure of the system in terms of nurturing the future generation.
  • Lack of availability of institutions set up under the Act:
    • The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (2015) had noted that statutory bodies under the Juvenile Justice Act, including JJBs and CWCs were not present in many states.
    • Several bodies existed only on paper, and were not functioning.
    • The National Legal Services Authority (2019) noted that only 17 of 35 states/Union Territories (UTs) had all basic structures and bodies required under the Act in place
  • Limited capacity of institutions set up under the Act:
    • The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development also noted that CWCs and JJBs lack authority to manage their financial and human resources and are dependent on the state or district administration.
    • Due to lack of infrastructure or specific funds, action taken by them was limited and delayed.
  • Term of sentence:
    • There is no logical or scientific reason which shows that total and complete rehabilitation can be achieved by a child in conflict with the law within a maximum period of three years.
  • Lack of judicial scrutiny in adoption orders:
    • Amendment 2021 shifts the power to issue adoption orders from the court to the district magistrate.
    • Adoption of a child is a legal process which creates a permanent legal relationship between the child and adoptive parents.
    • Therefore, it may be questioned whether it is appropriate to vest the power to issue adoption orders with the district magistrate instead of a civil court.
    • In countries such as United Kingdom, Germany, France, and several states in the United States of America, adoption orders are issued only by the court.
  • Delays in adoption
    • In 2017, the Madhya Pradesh High Court noted that children declared legally free for adoption were not being given timely referrals by Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA).

WAY FORWARD:

  • Measures to prevent juvenile delinquency:
    • Reforms in education:
      • Our curriculum needs to heavily emphasise on the values of kindness, respect and empathy.
      • Moreover, community involvement needs to become a crucial facet of our curriculum.
    • Reducing poverty:
      • The general economic standards of the people must be increased to prevent children from becoming- delinquent due to economic exigencies.
    • Strengthening parenting skills
      • Families should be educated to realize the importance of giving proper attention to the needs of their young children.
      • Investments in strengthening parenting skills and support can go can serve as preventive measures.
  • Improving child care institutions
    • Introduce legal interventions setting minimum standards for infrastructure of the CCIs with their regular review to ensure the adherence.
  • Strengthening statutory bodies:
    •  The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development recommended greater financial allocation, training and cadre-building for statutory bodies such as Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. ‘Juvenile justice laws need to uphold the twin objectives of justice and deterrence’. In the light of this statements analyse the issues associated with Juvenile Justice Act.