JUVENILE JUSTICE LAW 2015
Keeping in view the need for justice to be ensured to victims of heinous offences, major changes were brought about in criminal laws, especially those dealing with rape; likewise there was a the Houses of Parliament saw the need to amend the law dealing with juvenile offenders, especially in cases of heinous offences, owing to which they had passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill 2015 during the winter session of Parliament and thereafter President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent on December 31 2015. The Ministry of Woman and Child Development had passed orders stating that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 would be enforceable from January 15, 2016. The Act replaces the JJ Act of 2000 that took a reformative approach towards juveniles under 18 years, irrespective of the severity of their crime.
Highlights of the new law:
- Setting up of Juvenile Justice Board (Sec 4), Child Welfare Committees (Sec 27), Child Care Institution (Sec 41) and a Place of Safety (Sec 49).
- By virtue of section 18, the Juvenile Justice Board (comprising of a judicial magistrate and two social workers as members) has been authorized –
- To try and decide petty or serious offences committed by juveniles aged below eighteen years
-i.e. whether to convict the juvenile for committing serious offence and send to a place of safety (set up by the concerned state government under section 49) or an observation home attached to a child care institution or convict the juvenile for committing a petty offence and send for rehabilitation;
- To try and decide heinous offences (imprisonment for which is seven years or more under IPC) committed by juveniles aged between 16 and 18 years
– i.e. conduct a preliminary inquiry and if found to have committed heinous offence (like rape, murder, etc), such juvenile will be sent to a children’s court that can pronounce the child guilty and thereafter send the juvenile to a place of safety or child care institution instead of jail until he attains the age of 21, when he shall be transferred to jail (if the term of imprisonment is not yet complete), as per section 19(3).
- Apart from the Juvenile Justice Board, the High Court or the Children’s Court may also hear and decide them when the proceedings are initiated under section 19 or appeal, revision or otherwise.
- It also provides for adoption of children. A central adoptive resource agency will frame the rules for adoption, which will be implemented by state and district level agencies.
- A juvenile law expert Anant Asthana–
He opines that the new law has been putting undue pressure on the system at a time when the rules and regulations of the law are not yet in place. He further states that in states such as Rajasthan, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, ‘place of safety’ are held in regular jails as these states never set up the institution. In Delhi, the ‘place of safety’ was situated within the Tihar jail premises until the High Court suo moto took cognizance of the matter and held that an institution for children cannot be within a jail only after which it was moved to Majnu ka tilla”.
- The law had been criticized at the global level for having violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which India is a signatory because the latter mandates that all children under the age of 18 years be treated equal but the former lays down a distinction between juveniles convicted of petty offences and that of heinous offences.
- Sameer Shaikh, a senior social worker-
He says that the purpose of the new law to provide care, protection, reformation of juveniles convicted of heinous offences in separate special homes are not being met as most special homes in India are characterised by crumbling infrastructure, dilapidated standards of hygiene, abysmal conditions of basic facilities such as food, bathroom and clothing and so on. For instance, at the David Sassoon Children’s Home (DSCH), Bhiwandi, it has seen overcrowding of juveniles which has often resulted in their aggressive behavior; it’s ill-staffed, ill-trained, ill-maintained; lack of proper routine or time table without any constructive activities allocated to them shows minimal scope for reformation.
To conclude, what is required to lessen these shortcomings is proper training and expertise to be provided to the staff employed there and also provision for qualified counselors. The plight of these juvenile justice homes was mentioned in the 2013 report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) which also stated that there inmates were subjected to sexual assault and exploitation, and other such inhuman conditions. Various social workers and newspaper authors suggested that unless proper steps focused on enhancing education programmes, counseling and therapeutic interventions, health and hygiene, vocational training, extra-curricular activities are taken, this vision of better quality of life and getting them integrated into society will not become a reality.