Children are one of the most valued assets of the future generation who are required to be protected. Recently, there is an unprecedented increase in the juvenile crime rate. This is due to many changes such as behavioral change, lack of education, subjugation, upbringing environment, harassment, lack of parental care, sexual indulgence, violent treatment, poverty, and the advent of modern lifestyle. Shrewd criminals indulge children in criminal activities especially, the ones between 6-12 years because at this point minds are innocent and can be easily manipulated as well as lure them to the world of crime. However, children below 7 years of age cannot be held criminally responsible for an offence because of a lack of understandability and are known as “Doli Incapax Maxim”.
In the year 1986, Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act was enacted by India to provide protection, development, care, treatment, and rehabilitation of delinquent juveniles. The Act was also responsible for the adjudication of certain matters regarding neglected juveniles. Following this, the United Nations general assembly adopted a convention that primarily deals with the rights of a child in 1989. The main focus of the convention was on cherishing and upholding the right of the child to reintegrate into society. To do so, there was a requirement to upgrade the existing law. India signed and ratified the UNCRC (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) in 1992 which repealed the earlier JJ Act of 1986. Therefore, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000 was introduced to secure the interest of juveniles. The role of NGOs was one of the most significant changes addressed with the 2000 amendment of the JJ Act. Under Sections 8, 9, 34, 37, and 45 of this Act, the NGOs or other organizations were certified to maintain homes.
In the light of the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case (Mukesh & Anr. vs. State for NCT of Delhi & Ors.), the juvenile accused was sentenced to three years in a reformation home under the provisions of the JJ Act, 2000. Following the Supreme Court verdict upholding the constitutional validity of the Act, the Delhi High Court refused to extend the sentence of the accused in December 2015. This results in a failure of justice and a huge protest by the masses along with the victim’s family. Considering this, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 was delivered by the government and came into existence as the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. This Amendment introduced various changes to the existing JJ Act, reforming laws and making a more responsive juvenile justice system. The Act is mainly focused to hold the child accused of a crime accountable through counseling rather than punishment. Some of the features identified through this Act include:
Following this, different policies, organizations, and Acts for child welfare emerged which include the National Child Labor Scheme, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Child Labor (Protection and Regulation) Act, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), and the POCSO Amendment Act 2019.
Recently, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021 was passed by the Lok Sabha that ensures the strengthening of provisions for adopting and protecting children. It was analyzed that various adoption cases were pending because the final issuance of the adoption order was delivered by the civil court; therefore, the 2021 Amendment stated that the District Magistrate will issue adoption orders instead of the civil court.
Juvenile Justice Board is a judiciary body or a concerned authority with a primary motive to deal with juveniles detained or accused of a crime (Children in conflict with Law). It acts as a separate court for juveniles accused of petty, serious, or heinous crimes as they cannot be taken to a regular criminal court. The main responsibility of the board is to provide care, treatment, protection, developmental needs, inquiry, and final order for the ultimate rehabilitation of juveniles in conflict with the law.
JJB consists of a Chief Judicial Magistrate or Metropolitan Magistrate (experience of at least 3 -years) and two social workers, provided that at least one of them should be a woman. The Board ensures to keep the accused juvenile’s parents or guardians informed at every step of the process. Also, they ensure that all the rights of the child are protected as well as legal aid via legal service institutions should be made available for juveniles. In short, JJB plays a significant role in protecting, monitoring, and controlling every process involved in investigating a juvenile in conflict with the law.
Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) play an important role in deciding the cases related to juvenile crimes by implementing different sections of Criminal law. IPC deals with both adult and juvenile offences as well as demarcates the punishment based on age. As per Section 82 of IPC, “Nothing is an offence which is done by a child under seven years of age.” This means that anything performed by an individual whose age is under 7 years is not addressed as an offence. According to Section 83 of IPC, “Nothing is an offence which is done by a child who is above seven years of age and under the age of 12 who has not attained sufficient maturity to understand the consequences of their actions.”
CrPC discusses the jurisdiction of juveniles with the help of different Sections including Sections 27 and 437. According to Section 27 of CrPC, any offence committed by a person who is below the age of 16 and whose punishment does not include death or imprisonment will be dealt with by the law which provides treatment, training, imparting good social values, and rehabilitation of convicted minors.
As per the JJ Act of 2015, juveniles under the age group of 16 to 18 years are allowed to be tried as an adult if they are accused of a heinous crime which is done by putting them on trial under the criminal justice system. According to the law, a heinous crime is defined as an offence that is punishable with more than seven years of imprisonment. An offence may include rape, waging war against the government, murder, robbery, human trafficking, acid attacks, drug trafficking, and various others.
The Act allows juvenile offenders to be tried as adults only after the Board along with psychologists, psycho-social workers or others has assessed them on certain factors such as the juvenile’s capability to commit a murder, circumstances in which the murder was committed, and an offender’s ability to understand the consequences of an offence. It is the responsibility of the JJ Board to complete the assessment within three months. After this, they can transfer the juvenile offender to the Children’s Court if he committed the crime with knowledge of the consequences of the offence. Further, the Children’s Court will determine whether the offender is to be tried as an adult under the provisions of CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure). It is their responsibility to make sure that orders are passed under consideration of fair trial and a child-friendly environment. The first production of a juvenile is performed by the Board in form of a “First Summary Inquiry” and different orders are passed including, dispose of the case, juvenile’s transfer to Child Welfare Centre, the release of juvenile on bail under the supervision of probation officers and detain the juvenile in an Observation Home.
According to the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, when an individual (who appears to be a juvenile) is presented before the JJB, it is the responsibility of the Board to inquire and confirm the age of the person. This is done by following some points which are discussed below:
In the State of Jammu & Kashmir (now U.T. of Jammu & Kashmir) & Ors. vs. Shubam Sangra case, a question was answered by the Supreme Court bench, “Whether the respondent was a juvenile on the date of commission of the offence?” Here, a Special Medical Board comprising five doctors was established to examine the age of the respondent who urged to be a juvenile. This Board was introduced because of the contradiction of birth dates on the respondent’s birth certificate and school certificate. The report presented by the Medical Board stated that the respondent was not a juvenile at the time of the commissioning of the crime; therefore, the case was sent back to the High Court for further proceeding, “Juvenile to be tried as an adult”.
When a juvenile is tried for crimes, some basic rights are provided to them which are listed as follows:
Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act is aimed to reduce crimes or offences committed by Children who lie between the age group of 16-18 years. Juvenile offences are increasing at a greater pace because of certain changes in their behavior due to lack of education, lack of parental care, and various others. This Act provides various rights to protect the juveniles and help them to enjoy legal remedies as mentioned above.