Substantive amendments were made to the existing juvenile Justice act of 2015 on July 28. Rajya Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Amendment Bill 2021. Before it was passed with an overwhelming majority by Lok Sabha during the budget session of 2021. surprisingly, this bill received support from the opposition as well as the ruling party. After receiving assent from the President, the new amendment bill will come into force.
What are the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Act 2015?
The Juvenile Justice care and protection of children act of 2015 replaced the Juvenile delinquency law and the Juvenile Justice care and protection of children act of 2000. The act of 2015 allows the trial of juveniles who belong to 16 to 18 years of age as adults. The juvenile of the above age group will be tried as an adult if he engages in heinous crimes like rape. The nature of the crime and if the juvenile will be tried as an adult depends on the Juvenile Justice board.
This provision of trying juveniles as adults in heinous crimes came after the 2012 Delhi gang rape. One of the major accused in the case was a juvenile who was few months short of 18 years and was tried as a juvenile. Since the accused was a juvenile (under 18), he was not given the proper punishment as he should have been according to the law. The 2015 act believes that people belonging to the 16 to 18 years age group are mature enough to understand the implications of acts done by them on others and can be tried as an adult.
Indian personal laws are divided into lines of faith which is peculiar because everyone, irrespective of gender, caste, religion, place of birth, is equal before the law. Personally, I think this is an anomaly that needs to be addressed. Uniform civil code is a step towards that direction that is yet to be passed as a law. Another necessary provision of the Juvenile Justice act of 2015 is creating a universally acceptable adoption law that streamlines the Hindu adoptions and maintenance act of 1956 and the guardians of the word act of 1980.
The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act governs the Hindu adoption process, and the Guardians of the Ward Act covers the Muslim adoption process. The act did not replace these laws, but it subsumed procedures for orphaned, surrendered and abandoned children. Central Adoption Resource Authority CARA was given statutory status so that it can work effectively.
Why is the old law amended? Why was the Juvenile Justice care and protection amendment bill 2021 brought about by the government?
The new amendment bill gives more powers and responsibilities to district magistrates. The increased powers will ensure speedy trials and increased protection of children at the district level. Optimum checks have been included to ensure balanced working. In all, the new amendment bill will speed up justice delivery as well as plug loopholes to fasten the adoption process in the country. It’s a fact that a couple who wish to adopt a child have to wait for years if they go through the legal route.
The gargantuan backlog of cases will take years to clear. It’s unfair to the child and the parents because delay in the adoption process demotivates the adoption of abandoned and orphaned children. The situation of orphanages and support homes are not good.
Waiting for years for adoption snatches chances of an orphan child to have a loving family and a beautiful life. The amendment will enable district magistrates and additional district magistrates to issue adoption orders under section 61 of the Juvenile Justice act. It will ensure speedy disposal of requests and cases with enhanced accountability.
What are the new powers conferred to district magistrates under the new act?
The district magistrates have been empowered to do what they can for the smooth implementation of the new act. They have also been asked to support and work towards children in distressed conditions. For smooth performance, district magistrates and additional district magistrates will oversee the working of different agencies under the Juvenile Justice Act in districts.
Various bodies are working under the Juvenile Justice Act or Child Welfare Committees, Juvenile Justice boards, Special Juvenile Protection Units, and District Child Protection Units. Conferring powers to the authorities was introduced because, in 2018, NCPCR filed a report highlighting lacunas in the 7000 childcare institutions or children’s homes in India. The NCPCR surveyed 7000 Children’s homes, where they found out that 29 per cent had significant shortcomings in management, and 1.5 per cent did not conform to the rules and regulations given by the Juvenile Justice Act.
The NCPCR report also highlighted a sad fact that no single Child Care Institution in India confirms 100 per cent of the provisions laid down by the Juvenile Justice act. Child Care Institutions can be privately owned, privately funded, government-run, government-aided, run through the government or funded by foreign entities. There is inadequate monitoring and ignorance towards child care institutions.
If a Child Care Institutions does not receive a reply from the government on the request of a licence to open a children’s home within three months, it is automatically granted registration for six months. The government does not see safety provisions, legal aspects, supervision of the home et cetera. The Child Welfare Committees and state child protection unit or not doing their job. Children who live in these institutions are naive and innocent with no knowledge of the world.
It is the responsibility of the state to look after them, but sadly it did not. The new amendment changes this automatic license process, and without the assent of the DM, no children’s home can be opened. The district magistrates are also responsible for checking if the Child Welfare Committees under their district are adhering to rules and regulations set by the Juvenile Justice act.
District magistrates have to ensure cleanliness, protection, safety standards etc so that Child Care Institutions do not keep their children in unsanitary conditions in portacabins like was reported by the NCPCR survey. After the eye-opening report of NCPCR, 500 illegal Child Care Institutions that were not registered under the Juvenile Justice act were shut down.
What are the changes made to recognise offences committed by juveniles under the act?
The 2015 act recognises offences committed by juveniles as heinous offences, serious offences and petty offences. Most heinous crimes are eitherawarded seven years of imprisonment or if the Juvenile Justice board allows offenders who are 16 to 18 years are tried through the adult justice system. The amendment act adds that punishment for most serious crimes will also include crimes that get seven years of imprisonment.
Heinous crimes are those crimes that involve sexual offences and violent sexual crimes. It is the first time that heinous and serious offences are clearly described reducing vagueness. This differentiation will ensure that children are kept away from the adult justice system.
If juveniles are found with possession or selling illegal substance like drugs and alcohol will be tried under the serious offences category. Children’s Court will try offences that provide more than seven years imprisonment, while judicial magistrates will try offences that grant imprisonment of less than seven years.
Are there any concerns regarding the changes brought by the new amendment act?
The only concern is too much responsibility have been passed on to the shoulders of district magistrates for the protection of children. District magistrate heads task forces, reviews meetings and other processes. Apart from too much responsibility, district magistrates will need training in child protection laws as they are not equipped and educated to deal with this subject.
Imparting training has to be done speedily so that implementation of the new amendment is smooth. India devises foolproof policies with optimum checks and balances but fails when it comes to implement them. Abandoned children have no one to look after them; the state has to ensure they are well protected and safe under their care.