JUVENILE JUSTICE ACT AND CHILDREN’S RIGHT
Under the proposed amendment in the Juvenile Justice Act, approved by the Union cabinet earlier this month, juveniles above 16 years could be treated at par with adults if involved in heinous crimes, like rape and murder, for which there is a minimum imprisonment of seven years.
According to the amendment, the Juvenile Justice Board will decide whether cases where a juvenile is involved in a heinous crime would be tried under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act or normal trial court.
Highlights of the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Bill, 2014
- The Bill permits juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous offences. Also, any 16-18 year old, who commits a lesser, i.e., serious offence, may be tried as an adult only if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years.
- Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB) and Child Welfare Committees (CWC) will be constituted in each district. The JJB will conduct a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a juvenile offender is to be sent for rehabilitation or be tried as an adult. The CWC will determine institutional care for children in need of care and protection.
- Eligibility of adoptive parents and the procedure for adoption have been included in the Bill.
- Penalties for cruelty against a child, offering a narcotic substance to a child, and abduction or selling a child have been prescribed.
As per the Ministry of Women and Child Development, this unique instrument of a two-stage assessment/ trial brings about a balance that is sensitive to the rights of the child, protective of his legitimate interests and yet conscious of the need to deter crimes, especially brutal crimes against women. The proposed amendment further reinforces these principles through introduction of a new provision that disallows the protection from disqualification in cases where a juvenile is tried and convicted under the adult system.
P. Baburaj, a former member of the Juvenile Justice Board, has strongly criticised the bill on the grounds that it will create an adverse impact in rehabilitation of juveniles in conflict with law.According to him by approving the Bill, the government has accepted its failure to ensure rights to the children in this country. ‘’The juveniles in the age group of 16-18 years will be in traumatic situation if they are brought before the criminal court for having committed serious crimes.
- The Bill states that 16-18 year old juvenile offenders may be tried as adults in certain cases. There are differing views on whether juveniles should be tried as adults. Recently, the Supreme Court while hearing a case related to juvenile crime observed that the 2000 Act needs to be reviewed due to increasing heinous offences by juveniles. The law needs to deter juveniles from committing heinous crimes and safeguard the rights of victims. For crimes like rape and murder it is hard to conceive that the juvenile is not aware of the consequences. 6 However, the Standing Committee examining the proposed Bill observed that 16-18 years is a sensitive and critical age requiring greater protection. 7 Other experts have argued that a criminal justice system that has a reformative and rehabilitative approach towards juvenile offenders may reduce cases of repeat offences. They say that under the current law, juvenile crime has only shown a marginal increase over the past few years.
- The Bill requires certain juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults with regard to specific offences. This provision is not in accordance with the UNCRC, as ratified by India, and mentioned in the Bill’s Statement of Objects and Reasons. The Standing Committee observed that the Bill violates the UNCRC as it differentiates between children below 18 years of age.7 The UNCRC states that signatory countries should treat every child under the age of 18 years in the same manner and not try them as adults. It recommends that those countries that treat or propose to treat 16-18 year olds as adult criminals, change their laws to align with the principle of non-discrimination towards children.
- Clause 7 of the Bill states that any person who is between the ages of 16-18 years and has committed a serious (between three to seven years imprisonment) or heinous offence (minimum seven years imprisonment), will betried as an adult if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years (subject to other provisions of the Bill). This provision could violate some Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
- The Bill specifies penalties for various offences such as for giving a child narcotic substances, employing a child for begging, etc. It could be argued that the penalties prescribed under the Bill are not in proportion to the gradation of the crimes.