Rajya Sabha on 22 December 2015 passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015. With this passage, the bill awaits the President’s nod to be qualified as an act as it was already passed by the Lok Sabha on 7 May 2015.
Most importantly, 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 (serious) offence, may be tried as an adult only if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years.
The Bill replaces the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. It addresses children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection.
Key features of the bill
• 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 trial of the case will take place accordingly by the board which will consist of psychologists and social experts.
• The CWC will determine institutional care for children in need of care and protection.
• It proposed to streamline adoption procedures for orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children by making mandatory registration of all institutions engaged in providing child care.
• It also proposed several rehabilitation and social integration measures for institutional and non- institutional children. It provides for sponsorship and foster care as completely new measures.
• 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.
Key Issues and Analysis
• During the passage of the bill, inside and outside the parliament differing views were expressed on the provisions of the bill especially on whether juveniles should be tried as adults.
• Some argued that the current law does not act as a deterrent for juveniles committing heinous crimes. Another view was that a reformative approach will reduce likelihood of repeating offences.
• The provision of trying a juvenile committing a serious or heinous offence as an adult based on date of apprehension could violate the Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 21 (requiring that laws and procedures are fair and reasonable).
• As per some legal experts, the provision also countered the spirit of Article 20(1) by according a higher penalty for the same offence, if the person is apprehended after 21 years of age.
• The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all signatory countries to treat every child under the age of 18 years as equal. The provision of trying a juvenile as an adult contravenes the Convention.
• Some penalties provided in the Bill are not in proportion to the gravity of the offence. For example, the penalty for selling a child is lower than that for offering intoxicating or psychotropic substances to a child.
• The Standing Committee, which examined the bill, observed that it was based on misleading data regarding juvenile crimes and violated certain provisions of the Constitution.
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Where: Rajya Sabha
When: 22 December 2015