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BRIEF: JUVENILE JUSTICE (CARE AND PROTECTION OF CHILDREN) ACT

The formulation & promulgation of the Juvenile Justice Act is consequent upon India’s ratification of United Nations Convention.

This Article is written by Anurag Choudhary student of Delhi University.

INTRODUCTION:

The formulation and promulgation of the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) is consequent upon India’s ratification of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children in December 1992. It enjoins certain procedural safeguards for children in “conflict with law”. It addresses issues pertaining to adoption, pendency of suits, red-tapism and inefficiency of the concerned institutions. The law specifically focuses on the criminal Activities perpetrated by children of age group 16-18 (juvenile) which have lately shown an upsurge (special impetus after the Nirbhaya incident of 2012).

The Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 stands repealed by this new JJ Act 2015, which came into effect from January 2016.The new Act has ten chapters and 112 Sections related to general principles of Care and Protection, Juvenile Justice Board, Procedure concerning the Child in Conflict with Law, Child Welfare Committee, and Rehabilitation and Social Re-integration.

However, unlike its predecessors, this new Act is considered to be concurring retribution instead of reformation of the culprits, owing to its stringent provisions. It prescribes an adult-like trial for the teenagers accused of heinous crime in the Children’s court. If found guilty he/she is sent to a safe place till the age of 21, post which they are sent to jailor released upon an assessment. Thus, it scraps the minority status benefit available to the offenders earlier.

 

MAJOR PROVISIONS OF THE ACT:

  • The term “juvenile” is replaced with “child in conflict with law” so as to do away with certain limitations and negative connotation immanent in the former.
  • In consonance with the rights of child, it has acknowledged and delineated the definite of adoption. There is a separate chapter in the new Act for adopting orphan, abandoned, and surrendered children. Furthermore, the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) has been accorded a statutory status to render it efficient. According to it, even single parents can now adopt children, except for a male parent adopting a female child.
  • The new Act delineates and demarcates the functioning of juvenile justice boards, child welfare committee; also stipulated time limit for inquiry by juvenile justice board. Additionally, it advocates setting up of the aforementioned institutions in every district to increase their reach to the laity. Also, it should necessarily have a woman member.
  • A procedure of inquiry is ensured whereby the Child protection committee investigates the Child’s background before the Child is produced in the court of law. In some cases, anyone related to the Child can also apply to the district judge, who can review and provide appropriate orders on the matters. Thereby ensuring that the Child protection committee is not the final authority on the subject
  • As per the Section 15 of the Act, the Juvenile justice board, now, has the option of transferring cases of gruesome offences (killing, assault etc.) by child offenders (16-18 years) to a children’s’ court (session court). Such an offender would be placed in ‘a place of safety’ until the age of 21 after which an overall assessment would be conducted by the Children’s court for the future course of Action. The rationale for this provision stems from its potential deterrence and the protection of the victims’ rights.
  • It has made compulsory for every childcare institution, whether public or private, funded or non-funded, to be registered under the new Act within 6 months of its commencement, failing in which would result in punitive Action.
  • The Act now brings under its purview various new offences perpetrated against the children, for instance, illegal sale and purchase and adoption, physical punishments in childcare institutions, children used by militant group, offences against differently abled children and kidnapping of children.
  • Under this Act, measures have been taken to ensuring rehabilitation and social inclusion of the child in conflict with law and also those who are in need of protection and care. These measures are of two types, namely, institutional and non-institutional. The former includes services like education, health, nutrition, de-addiction and skill development etc. while the latter includes sponsorship, adoption and foster care(putting children in a familial environment for their holistic development).

 

CATEGORIES OF CHILDREN INCLUDED:

  • Children in conflict with law – under the new law the term “juvenile” is replaced with “child” in conflict with law. Also, those within the age group of 16-18, charged with heinous crime, face adult like trial after an initial assessment by juvenile justice board. Throughout the period of inquiry, the child is kept in an observation centre/home and is classified into separate groups on the basis of gender, physical and mental status and gravity of offence. Once proven guilty of the offence he/she is placed in a special home by the JJ Board. Furthermore, a safety place, having separate facilities and arrangements is setup for the accused or convicted people of the aforesaid group. Also, frequent inspections are conducted by JJ board to check for children who might have been wrongly kept in adult jails, to be sent to the observation home.
  • The Act has also stipulated a time limit of 3 months within which the initial assessment must be conducted by the board. If tried by a Court of Session the final order should also have as an addendum, the rehabilitation plan for the child coupled with follow up by the district child protection unit. The offender stays in the place of safety till he/she attains 21years of age. Thereafter, an assessment by the Children’s court on their reformative progress determines continuance of sentence or release. However, the Act prescribes a complete ban on capital punishment or life imprisonment.

 

  • Children in need of care and protection- Under this, a child which requires care and protection must be produced before the child welfare committee within 24hrs. The Act mandates that children separated from their guardian/parents must be necessarily reported, failing in which would result in punitive measures being initiated. Such children are then sent to childcare institutions where they are looked after by social workers who also in the meantime (15 days as mandated) conduct a social investigation. The Act prescribes the child welfare committee to meet at least 20 days a month and also makes it incumbent upon the district magistrate to conduct quarterly review of the working of such welfare institutions. Furthermore, shelter and children’s homes are opened up to provide social support, protection, care and to facilitate the overall development of the aggrieved child.

GOVERNMENT’S DUTY AS MANDATED BY THE ACT:

The JJ Act of 2015 contains several provisions under various Sections for the effective functioning and coordination of various organs of the government. Section 4 and 27 of the Act mandates that the members of juvenile justice board and child welfare committee must be given preliminary formal training withing 2 months from their date of joining. The Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) and his counterparts are responsible to review the working and case disposal rate of the juvenile justice board once every 3 months and suggest changes accordingly which would help in quicker disposal of work. The Act contains provision even for the constitution high-level committee to supervise the juvenile justice boards.

Section 36 of the Act has made it obligatory for the District magistrate to supervise and review, quarterly, the working of these committees and send a report thereof to the District judge on the progress of trials and disposal of cases. DM’s report is also forwarded to the State government which can form additional committees or even dissolve the existing committees in case of delay in proceedings.

Furthermore, Section 49 directs the state to establish a place of safety for the. offenders above 18years of age or between 16-18 years, convicted for gruesome crimes. Section 54 mandates the constitution of inspection committee at state and district level which would inspect all the registered institutions every three months. Section 55 calls for the evaluation of child welfare committees, juvenile justice board, juvenile police unit and other agencies by the state and the central government.

One of the major takeaways of the JJ Act 2015 is its focus on adoption of children. As such under Aection 65 it instructs the state to recognize one or more institutions at the district level as the “specialized adoption agency”. The government agency has to furnish the CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority) with the details of these adoption agencies along with the registration certification and acknowledgement letter. These agencies have to be inspected every year to check for any discrepancy. If found, a fine of Rs. 50,000 is to be levied, leading up to even the de-recognition of the agency concerned.

Also, it is incumbent upon the state and the central government to create awareness about the provisions of the Act among the laity. Additionally, government officials and staffers must undergo regular training.

RECENT AMENDMENTS TO THE ACT:

In February 2021, the Union Cabinet passed certain amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 to do away with certain ambiguity inherent in it and to assign greater responsibility to the government officials. The significant changes include:

  • Inclusion of a new category of “serious crimes” in addition to heinous crimes. This change also clarified the ambiguity between the two and clearly defined the former while retaining the latter. The Act now clearly states that for a juvenile to be tried for a heinous crime as an adult, the punishment of crime should not only have a maximum sentence of 7 years or more but also a minimum sentence not anything less than 7 years. Sexual offences are those heinous crimes which have a minimum seven year sentence period and hence are distinguished from “serious crimes” which now includes crimes like possession or sale/purchase of illicit drugs and liquor etc.
  • Assigning greater responsibility to the government officials DMs and ADMs is the next major amendment, premised on the NCPCR report of 2018-19. It found that no child care institution was cent percent complying with the provisions of the JJ Act. Many were not monitored properly and had an inefficient management. Therefore the aforementioned officials will now monitor the functioning of these CCI. Also, the amendment mandates that no children welfare homes can be setup without the assent of the DM who would also ensure the compliance of all the rules, regulations and procedures. It is also incumbent upon the DM to conduct background checks of the child welfare and other social workers and most importantly, they now have the power to sanction adoptions which was earlier vested in the judiciary. Although the amendments are welcoming but it has assigned too many responsibilities on the already overburdened District magistrate. It might, therefore, reduces its efficacy.

CONCLUSION:

Thus, the JJ Act of 2015, brings under the judicial purview many such children offenders, who earlier in the wake of being juvenile escaped severe punishment much to the disappointment of the victim; but at the same time with adequate safeguards it thwarts judicial excesses.

REFERENCES:

  • Juvenile Justice ( care and protection of children) Act, Ministry of Law and Justicehttp://cara.nic.in/PDF/JJ%20act%202015.pdf
  • Lok Sabha passes amendment to Juvenile Justice Act; NEW DELHI:, MARCH 25, 2021