A Critical Analysis on Juvenile Justice Act

Author :

Shrishti Chauhan, 2nd Year BA LLB, Christ (deemed to be) Univeristy

Quoting Martin Luther King Junior, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Emphasising more on this, regardless of the individual, justice delayed is justice denied, because a crime is a crime committed by any individual. A juvenile is an individual who has not yet attained the age of eighteen. In the Indian context, Section 2 (k) of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 defines ‘juvenile’ or ‘child’ as a person who has not completed eighteenth year of age. The latest report of ‘Crime in India’ in the year of 2018 states that the number of crimes reportedly committed by juveniles was more than 31,000 with the state of Maharashtra contributing to 19% of the cases alone. There has been an increase in the crime rates against children and also committed by children in recent times. Some of the major causes for juvenile delinquency are lack of control by family or conflicts amongst family members, impact or influence of media, lack of education, etc. This study aims to critically analyse the effectiveness and the evolutionary nature of the legislation from the day of its commencement till today. In spite of just one legislation being amended four times according to the needs and circumstances of the changing times, there still has been a rise in the number of juvenile criminals across our country making it a hindrance to development of the country. The Juvenile Justice Act, established in 1986, has been amended thrice in the year 2000, 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Key Words: juvenile, justice, delinquency, development, child, legislation, effectiveness.

The nature of a child is always selfless, and no child is a born criminal, it is the society or their environment which inculcates crime in them. Definition of a child varies in the Indian context, but then there was a need for a uniform law to curb the increase in crimes committed by children. Considering the definition given in the Juvenile Justice Act, a child is someone who has not completed eighteenth year of age, this legislation aimed at discharging the powers and functions through Juvenile Justice Boards and resolving conflicts between the children and the law. 

The term ‘juvenile’ is a Latin term meaning young and delinquency means to leave. The establishment of special courts for juveniles dates back to the year 1847 initiated in the United States of America and the term ‘juvenile justice’ was first used by the state of Illinois, United States of America in 1899.
Considering the situation in our country, India, the first legislation to govern juveniles was introduced in the year 1850 with the Apprentice Act, laying down provisions for children between the age group of 10-18 years who are convicts to be given vocational training for their rehabilitation, which was later on replaced by two other legislations; Reformatory Schools Act, 1897 and The Children Act, 1960 respectively. 
The Juvenile Justice Act is the primary legal framework which came into existence in 1986 with the special objective of not just prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency but also their protection and rehabilitation. This legislation was applicable to the whole of India, except for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There were different ways in which the states across India implemented this legislation, later on which the Government of India decided to introduce a uniform legislation throughout the country with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 which protected the children from coming in conflict with the law and provided them with proper care along with catering to their developmental needs through child friendly and institutional mechanisms for rehabilitation purposes. 

Juvenile Justice Act, 1986: This was the first primary legal framework which dealt with juvenile delinquency. Children are the most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and the passage of this legislation was to uniformly govern juvenile justice and build mechanisms to prevent as well as control delinquency by juveniles. The Act established norms and administration in such a way as to link the voluntary agencies with the formal system and constitution of special offences along with the sanctions. This primary legal framework came up with categorising of different homes; juvenile homes for neglected juveniles, special homes for delinquent juveniles, observation homes for pending enquiries and after-care homes for their protection and taking care of them. Being the first legislation specifically for juveniles, it gave a legal structure to the juvenile system in India, creating a separate system of justice for them. Social reintegration and rehabilitation were the prime objectives of the act making it child friendly, involving the participation of informal arrangements like the family and the community. Sanctions were laid down for certain crimes but a juvenile under this act can never be sentenced to death, life imprisonment or committed to prison.

Juvenile Justice Act, 2000: Formulated in the year 2000, this was a rewritten and renamed version of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986. There were a lot of subject matters which were brought in by this act and addressed by it including delays in processes by the Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees, increase in crimes committed by children, languishing children in support homes for years together for petty crimes, inadequate infrastructure and facilities for the care and protection of children, lack of clarity with regard to roles and responsibilities of agencies and committees, that is, the Juvenile Justice Board and Child Welfare Committee including their neglect towards adopting child friendly measures, no appropriate authority to approach for reporting of abandoned children and their safety, etc. These were the issues that were addressed by the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. The most important development of this act was the roles and responsibilities of the Juvenile Justice Board and the Child Welfare Committee which include conducting enquiries and placing children in appropriate institutions not exceeding three years and disposal of cases respectively. The maximum penalty for a child committing a crime under this Act is three years and not more than that. 

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2014: There were two major issues that needed to be addressed, one of them being whether children between the age 16-18 years should be tried as adults for the heinous crimes that they committed and also whether the adoption process of abandoned, orphaned and surrendered children should be more streamlined. However, the objectives of the act remained similar to the previous legislations that are safety and protection of children and their rights with the intention of rehabilitation and reintegration into the society. 

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015: With the same objectives, introduced in the Parliament by Maneka Gandhi, allowed for certain amendments in the Juvenile Justice Act. The amendments included trial of individuals between 16-18 years of age as adults for commission of heinous crimes like murder and rape, setting up of Juvenile Justice Boards in every district with at least one-woman member and also eligibility criteria for adoptive parents. There weren’t many changes since it was amended a year ago. 

Observing the evolution of the Juvenile Justice Act, it was amended four times and new changes were brought in as per the needs and developments required according to the current scenario of the justice system as well as catering to the societal aspects as well. Major changes were not encouraged but the first time it was amended, there were a lot of issues which were looked into and provisions were made for the same. One thing that did not change throughout these years in the Juvenile system is the objective of the legislation which focuses on protection of children who are in conflict with law and to fulfil the basic needs and necessities of children who are in genuine need of care and protection by adopting child friendly mechanisms. The sanction aspect has been taken care off very well by the legislation. The Bill of 2000 was questioned when the maximum punishment was restricted to three years regardless of the seriousness of the crime committed, which was then overturned in the introduction of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2014, where the juveniles between the age group of 16-18 years were to be tried as adults. It was felt that this might violate the fundamental right under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and treating them or trying them as adults will violate the UNCRC or the United Nations Convention on Child Rights. They will have to go through a process where they will be gauged for their mental and physical capacity to commit the crime and the heinousness of the crime will also be taken into consideration. One of the drawbacks of the act is the lack of emphasis on the rehabilitative and reformative objective of the act. The reformative aspect is not implemented that strongly as the punishments. Even after the existence of this legislation for almost a decade now, there isn’t much infrastructure for the same. Many homes categorised under this legislation are in a deserted condition, although the availability of these homes is also not enough. It is the State’s responsibility to provide for education, skill, counselling, and therapy to the children but the deserted homes and as mentioned earlier the lack of infrastructure says otherwise. The enactment seems easy, but the implementation needs more efforts and requires necessary skill and expertise to fulfil the reformative aspect of the legislation. 
Considering the statistics of juvenile delinquency in India, the National Crime Records Bureau or the NCRB, shows that 2750 juveniles were arrested in 2019 on the charges of rape, assault on women and attempted rape, cumulatively. Majority of the juveniles involved in criminal activities belong to the States of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana. But the crime rates committed by children have decreased in recent years because of the increase in the awareness of the juvenile justice system, education and amendments being made to cater to the current needs of the justice system. 

In spite of having such a strong legal framework, the effective implementation of the same is needed as of now. Not just the number, but the heinousness is also increasing day by day which makes us give it a thought that age should not be a criterion for giving out a lenient punishment or not punishing an offender at all. Laws are made every day, amendments follow, but the major problem with our country is the implementation of the same. Not just mere implementation, but effective implementation is the need of the hour. But it can be observed that the legislature and the judiciary have made tremendous efforts to provide maximum benefit and relief to the juveniles who deserved it. Some recommendations as to avoid juvenile delinquency itself include education, awareness regarding anti-social behaviour, increase in awareness about the existing laws governing the juveniles, educating the parents about these laws as well, providing a healthy and safe environment for their living and building proper and child friendly rehabilitation centres increasing their availability. Crimes are committed by children but they should be punished according to the crime they’ve committed. Juvenility should not be accepted as a defence against heinous crimes committed like rape and murder. Hence, this requires an amendment. The community, government, as well as the parents are responsible for the execution of this legislation. Therefore, it can be concluded that there exists a strong legal framework to curb juvenile delinquency but needs effective implementation.    
Quoting John Kennedy, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and it’s best hope for the future”, it can be said that if children grow up in a healthy and safe environment, they become a part of the development of one’s own self as an adult as well as the country.

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