Juvenile law and offence in India
The Juvenile Justice System in India is structured around the Constitutional mandate prescribed in the language of Articles 15(3), 39 (e) & (f), 45 and 47, as well as several international covenants, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules).In India, a person below the age of 18 years is considered a ‘child’. The Juvenile Justice system contemplates the legal response with respect to two categories of children, namely those who are ‘ in conflict with the law (an individual under the age of 18 years who is accused of committing an offence); and those ‘in need of care and protection‘ (children from deprived and marginalized sections of society as well as those with different needs and vulnerabilities).
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 lays down that juvenile in conflict with the law or juvenile offenders may be kept in an ‘Observation Home’, while children in need of care and protection need to be kept in a ‘Children Home’ during the pendency of proceedings before the competent authority.
A juvenile can be detained only for a maximum period of 3 years, irrespective of the gravity of the offence committed by him, and he will be remanded to ‘Special Home’. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 provided immunity to the child who is less than 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the alleged offence from trial through Criminal Court or any punishment under Criminal Law in view of Section 17 of the Act. The purpose of this Act was to rehabilitate the child and assimilate him/her in mainstream society.
Amendment in Juvenile Justice Act, 2000:
A serious debate about the age of juveniles between 16 and 18 years first began after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, in which one of the main accused was a juvenile. While the other accused in the case were given a death sentence, the minor accused was sent to a remand home for three years, and today he is a free bird.
Similarly, in the August 2013 Shakti Mill case in Mumbai, in which a 22-year-old photojournalist was raped by four adults and a juvenile, the juvenile got just three years at a children’s correction home at Nashik.
Such cases and public outcry led to the new legislation of ‘JJ Act 2015’.
Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act 2015):
The Legislation that deals with all the matters concerning ‘Children in need of care and protection’ and ‘Children in Conflict with Law’ is Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
The said Act came into force from 15th January 2016. It replaced the juvenile delinquency law and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000/2006. The provisions of the Act, 2015 apply to all the matters concerning Children.
Aim and Object of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015:
The provisions of this Act apply to all the matters concerning ‘Children in Need of Care and Protection’ and ‘Children in Conflict with Law’, including,
- Procedures and decisions or orders relating to rehabilitation, adoption, reintegration, and restoration of children in need of care and protection;
- Apprehension, detention, prosecution, penalty or imprisonment, rehabilitation and social integration of children in conflict with the law; in a child-friendly manner.
The Act aims at adjudicating and disposing of cases dealing with juveniles/children keeping in mind “the best interest of the children and their rehabilitation.”
Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) is constituted in each district for exercising the powers and discharging its functions relating to juveniles/children in conflict with the law. 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. Similarly, Child Welfare Committee (CWC), deal with those children who are ‘in need of care and protection’ i.e. children from deprived and marginalized sections of society as well as those with different needs and vulnerabilities and aims at determining institutional care for children in need of care and protection and their rehabilitation, reintegration, and restoration.
Composition, powers and functions of CWC’s and JJB’s:
- Each CWC shall consist of a Chairperson and four other members, of whom at least one member of the Committee should be a woman and another, an expert on the matters concerning children. The Committee shall function as a Bench of Magistrates and has the same powers as a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of the first class. On the other hand, each JJB shall consist of a ‘Principal Magistrate’ and two social workers, of whom at least one member shall be a woman. The Board is conferred with the powers bestowed upon a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of the first class.
- CWC’s deal with children who are deprived and belong to marginalized sections of society as well as those with different needs and vulnerabilities, whereas JJB’s deal with those who are accused of committing an offence.
- The Committee has the final authority to dispose of cases for the care, protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of the children as well as to provide for their basic needs and protection of their human rights. Also, the committee has the power to deal exclusively with all proceedings relating to children in need of care and protection. Whereas, The JJ Board constituted for any district shall have the power to deal exclusively with all the proceedings under the Act, relating to children in conflict with the law, in the area of jurisdiction of such Board.
Reasons for enacting Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015:
The reason behind amending the law was the incident of 2012, Delhi Gang Rape Case, probably known as Nirbhaya case. In this case, one of the accused was a juvenile (just a few months away from being 18 years old) and he was tried in the juvenile court.
In July 2013, Mr Subramaniam Swami, a BJP politician filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India seeking permission that the juvenile is tried in an ordinary court of law as an adult.
Major amendments introduced in Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015:
The Act of 2015 provides that the children between 16 to18 age group be tried as adults for heinous crimes. The three types of offences defined by the new Act are:
- heinous offence– an offence that attracts a minimum penalty of seven years imprisonment under any existing law,
- serious offence– an offence that attracts imprisonment between three to seven years and,
- petty offence– that attracts imprisonment with up to three years.
Under the JJ Act, 2000 any child in conflict with the law, regardless of the type of offence committed, may spend a maximum of three years in institutional care (special home, etc.) The child cannot be given any penalty higher than three years, nor be tried as an adult and be sent to an adult jail. But the new Act, 2015 treats all children under the age of 18 years in a similar way, except for one departure. Section 15 of the Act, 2015 states that any child who is 16-18 year old and commits a heinous offence may be tried as an adult. But for this, the JJB shall conduct a preliminary assessment to assess the child’s mental and physical capacity, ability to understand consequences of the offence, etc. and the circumstances in which the alleged offence has taken place. Then on the basis of his assessment, the Board shall determine whether the child is fit to be tried as a child or there is a need for a trial of the said child as an adult by the Children’s Court having jurisdiction to try such offences.
The Act while addressing the children in need of care and protection has stipulated that when a child is found to be an orphan, abandoned or surrendered or in any other vulnerable state he shall be brought before a Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours, excluding the time necessary for the journey. Such a child can be produced by any of the following persons, namely:
- any police officer or special juvenile police unit or a designated Child Welfare Police Officer or any officer of District Child Protection Unit or an inspector appointed under any labour law for the time being in force;
- any public servant;
- Childline Services or any voluntary or non-governmental organisation or any agency as may be recognised by the State Government;
- Child Welfare Officer or probation officer;
- Any social worker or a public-spirited citizen;
- By the child himself; or
- Any nurse, doctor or management of a nursing home, hospital or maternity home:
A Social Investigation Report is prepared for the child, and the Committee decides to either send the child to a Child Care Institution or any other facility it deems fit or to declare the child legally free for adoption or foster care. The Act also outlines the eligibility criteria for prospective parents. It also details the procedures for adoption and introduces a provision for inter-country adoption, so that prospective parents living outside the country can adopt a child in India. Model Guidelines for Foster Care, 2016 have also been released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Juvenile Crimes in India
Children are considered to be gifts from God. They are the greatest person as well as national assets. Children are expected to be obedient, respectful and have virtues and good qualities in them. However, due to various reasons, a certain percentage of children do not follow settled social and legal dictum. Such children are most often than not get involved in criminal behaviour, which is known as ‘juvenile delinquency’ or juvenile crime.
Crime by juveniles is a harsh reality in India. In recent times, juveniles were found to be involved in most heinous of crimes such as murder and gang rape. It’s a disturbing trend, and society as a whole is anguished by such criminal acts by children.
Juvenile Crimes in India
Petty crimes in general, and heinous crimes in particular, are being committed regularly in India by children. Crimes such as theft, burglary, snatching etc. which are not so serious in nature, or crimes such as robbery, dacoity, murder, rape etc. which are relatively serious are on the rise in whole of the country. And the unfortunate thing is that all types of these crimes are also being committed by children below the age of 18 years.
Among juveniles also there is a specific trend that juveniles between the age of 16 to 18 years are found to be more involved in heinous criminal acts. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the data (2013) shows that of the 43,506 crimes registered against minors under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Special Local Law (SLL) by juveniles, 28,830 had been committed by those between the ages of 16 to 18, which is more than 60%.
In Maharashtra, of the 8,012 cases against juveniles in 2013, 5,594 were committed by minors over 16.
The statistics also show the number of juveniles found to be in conflict with law under the IPC and the SLL has risen 13.6% and 2.5% respectively in 2013, as compared with 2012.
According to sources in the police, an increasing number of juveniles are found to be involved in serious crimes.
According to NCRB statistics (2013), the rise in crimes against women committed by juveniles was highest in cases where the modesty of a woman was outraged (132.3%) followed by word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman (70.5%) and rape (60.3%).
Reasons for Juvenile Crimes
No one is a born criminal. Socio-cultural environment, both inside and outside of the home, plays a significant role in shaping one’s life and overall personality.
Some of the most common causes which are associated with juvenile crimes are Poverty; Drug Abuse; Anti-social Peer Group; Easy availability of firearms; Abusive parents; Single-parent child; Nuclear Family; Family Violence; Child sexual abuse and Role of Media.
However, as far as India is concerned, it is poverty and the effect of media, especially social media, which make juveniles more inclined towards criminal activities.
Poverty is one of the biggest causes which force a child to get involved in criminal acts. Also, the role played by social media today which is having a more negative than positive imprints on young minds. Others factors are also there which need greater study and analysis.
“There are several factors for the rise in crime by juveniles. As the Prime Minister (had) rightly pointed out in his speech on Independence Day, there is a need for parents to take account of their children,” said eminent lawyer Majeed Memon.