In this blogpost, Harsha Jeswani, Student, National Law Institute University, Bhopal, analysis the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Bill, 2015 stating its salient features and impact.
On 1st December 2015, the Rajya Sabha passed one of the most controversial bills, “The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Bill, 2015” popularly referred as “the JJ Bill”. The decision comes against the backdrop of the Supreme Court rejecting the plea against release of the ‘juvenile’ offender in December 2012 gang rape case. The new Bill was passed amidst widespread opposition from some members of the civil society, politicians and Members of Parliament. The Bill seeks to replace the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. It tries to address children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection.
The most contended aspect of the bill is the provision for treating the law offending children aged between sixteen and eighteen years as adults. Thus, the children accused of crimes such as rape, murder, etc. will be tried under the Indian Penal Code just like adults.
After the Nirbhaya Case in 2012, there was a massive protest all over the country with people demanding the age of juvenile to be lowered. It was found that one of the accused of the incident was only a few months away from attaining the age of majority and was therefore tried by the juvenile court. This led to a huge uproar among the public demanding stringent punishment for the juvenile involved in such heinous crime. Subramaniam Swamy filed PIL in the Supreme Court for trying the juvenile as an adult in a court. This made the UPA government initialled the process of amending the law related to juveniles. Looking to the rising level of juvenile crimes, the Women and Child Development Minister Smt Maneka Sanjay Gandhi said there was a need to introduce this new law. The government felt that the existing Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 is facing issues with respect to implementation and procedural delays. The new bill is aimed to remove all such discrepancies by acting as a deterrent for the juvenile offenders.
SALIENT FEATURES OF THE BILL
The Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 prescribes the maximum punishment of three years detention in a juvenile home irrespective of the nature of the offence. However, the new bill seeks to segregate the adolescents in the 16 to 18 age group by categorising them into petty, serious and heinous offences by treating the juveniles accused of heinous offences as adults. For the first time, petty, serious and heinous offences based on provisions of IPC have been clearly defined in the said bill which provides that (i) a heinous offence is one for which the minimum punishment is seven years of Imprisonment under any existing law. (ii) Imprisonment between three to seven years falls under the category of serious offence and, (iii) any offence for which maximum punishment is three years is a petty offence. Currently, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 only lays down the framework of dealing with children who are in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. The 2015 bill replaces the existing 2000 Act by strengthening the provisions of the Act and laying down the procedures to deal with both categories of children. The Bill makes a provision for the constitution of Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) and Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) in each district for dealing with these children. Both the bodies must have at least one woman member. The JJB will conduct a preliminary inquiry assessing the mental and physical capacity of the child and his ability to understand the consequences of his act to determine whether a juvenile offender is to be sent for rehabilitation or be tried as an adult. The CWC, on the other hand, will determine institutional care for children in need of care and protection.
Another striking feature of the bill is that the bill makes provision with respect to several other offences not adequately included under any other law. These include punishment for cruelty against children, trafficking of children, selling narcotic substance to children, kidnapping and abduction of children, etc. Various measures of rehabilitation and social reintegration have been given in the bill for institutionalisation and non-institutionalization of children. The institutional care includes services such as education, nutrition, skill development, counselling, vocational training, etc. to help the children in their overall development. Under the non-institutional care, options such as sponsorship, foster care to provide the children with family environment and supervision of these children were included. It is assumed that if such law comes into effect, it will act as a deterrent for children involved in heinous crimes of murder and rape.
IMPACT OF THE NEW BILL
Despite these provisions, the bill continues to remain a matter of dispute. It is argued by many child activists that the Bill violates Article 14 (Right to Equality), and 21 (requiring that laws and procedures are fair and reasonable) of the Constitution. Further treating 16-18-year-olds as an adult is against the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child, which specifies all signatory countries to treat every child under the age of 18 years as equal. Some argue that the current law does not act as a deterrent for juveniles involved in heinous offences. A more reformative approach is required as it will reduce the chances of repeating offences.
The activists also contend that the Constitution also provides for treating “vulnerable sections” of society with special care. These include women and children. Therefore, the children in the age group of 16-18 who are extremely sensitive require greater care and protection and hence subjecting them to the adult judicial system will go against the Constitutional provisions of India. Also, the bill provides for disproportionate punishment with respect to the gravity of offences. For instance, the punishment for selling a child is lower than that for offering intoxicating or narcotic substances to a child.
Thus, the activists including many politicians and lawyers are of the view that the new Bill suffers from many loopholes. While the 2000 Act adheres to the UN Convention as well as Constitution, 2015 Bill fails to comply with the necessary requirements. They have described the new law as barbaric and uncivilised and, therefore, needs to be amended.
Thus, on the one hand, the 2015 Bill is considered as a means to address the rise in juvenile crimes. On the other hand, the Bill is referred as violative of the Constitution. However, I believe that the debates on how the parliamentarians have been barbaric in treating children like adults are erroneous and inaccurate since the proposed law aims at dealing the cases of juveniles keeping in mind their best interest and rehabilitation. Also, the bill aims to strike out a balance between children alleged and found to be in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection by taking into account their basic needs through proper care, protection, development, treatment, social re-integration, by adopting a child-friendly approach. Thus, it is positive step for preventing the children from committing crimes and must receive the approval of the President as soon as possible to become law.