This article is written by Monesh Mehndiratta. It provides a brief overview of landmark cases related to juveniles in India which have been decided by the Supreme Court. The cases are related to various issues pertaining to juveniles and their welfare. 

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


The young generation is one of the most important assets for a country. Children and youth are the future of society; hence, they must be taught to serve their country by some means. The focus of every government is majorly on young minds and their development, education and training so as to make them productive citizens. However, there are times when these young minds are influenced or manipulated, as a result of which they deviate and commit crimes. Several factors may be responsible for such deviation like social factors, family issues, mental health issues, biological factors, environmental factors, etc. 

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The conviction of a criminal is an important principle of the criminal justice system. This means that every criminal must be punished for the crime committed. This applies to children and young offenders as well. However, a special mechanism has been created for them. Such young offenders are known as juveniles and are governed under the Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children) 2015. They are not treated like adult offenders nor punished with them in order to prevent them from turning into dreadful and habitual offenders. The aim is to reform them with the help of the juvenile justice system and make them sober citizens. 

Over the years, there have been many developments in the juvenile justice system with the help of judgements delivered by the Supreme Court. In today’s article, we will discuss landmark case laws with respect to juveniles in the country. 

Juvenile Justice Act: An overview

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 was enacted  to amend and consolidate the law related to categories of children covered under the Act. It has been enacted to keep up with the international conventions and provisions of the Indian Constitution related to care, protection, treatment and development of children. The Act recognises two categories of children, namely:

  • Children in Conflict with Law.
  • Children in need of care and protection. 

Need of the Act

India adopted the United Nations Minimum Rules for Administration of Juvenile Justice, 1985, in 1986 by enacting legislation for the treatment and development of juveniles and naming it the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986. However, with the passage of time, it was realised that new legislation must be enacted, as a result of which the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, was enacted. Rehabilitation of juveniles was the main purpose of this Act. 

After the horrific incident of the Nirbhaya Rape Case in 2013, the legislature felt the need to amend the Act with respect to the age of juveniles, their trial, and their treatment. Finally, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, was enacted and enforced. The current legislation provides for a Juvenile Justice Board to be constituted and established in every district. The board has the responsibility of disposing of the cases related to juveniles and passing the required order. It also provides for the adoption of children who have been surrendered or abandoned by their parents. The Act also emphasises aftercare programs for juveniles and provides for various shelter homes for their treatment, care and development, like observation homes, special homes, children’s homes, etc.  

Objective of the Act

  • The primary objective of the Act is to consolidate and amend the law related to juveniles and children who have been abused or harassed in any manner and need care and protection. 
  • It aims at rehabilitation and reintegration of juveniles back into society.
  • It also deals with treatment and development of such children. 
  • It provides for different machinery that hears and disposes of cases related to children covered under the Act. 
  • It provides provisions for different shelter homes where such children are kept for their treatment, rehabilitation, and development. 

Landmark juvenile cases in India

Sheela Barse v. Union of India (1986)

In this case, a petition was filed asking the court to release children under 16 years of age kept in jails in different states. Information related to the number of existing juvenile courts, shelters, and schools, along with other information related to those children in the prison. In response, the Supreme Court issued notice to the respective respondents and directed the Judicial Magistrates in districts to visit and inspect all jails, shelter homes, observation homes, etc. in their districts and make a report that must be submitted to the court within a week. The major issue in this case was whether the children under 16 years of age who are kept in jails are treated badly and abused or not. 

The Supreme Court observed that it is a settled principle in law that children must not be confined to prisons like adult criminals, as it would have harmful effects on them that would affect their growth and development. The following directions were given in this regard:

  • All the states were asked to bring the Children Act, 1960, into motion in their respective states and ensure that it is followed. 
  • Every prison in the country was asked to maintain jail manuals diligently. 
  • District and session judges in every district in each state were asked to make a visit to prisons at least once every two months. 
  • It is the duty of visiting judges to check whether the children are given benefit of jail manuals. 

Pratap Singh v. State of Jharkhand (2005) 

The appellant was arrested in this case for being involved in causing the death of the deceased by poisoning. When he was produced in court, he was 18 years of age, and it was alleged that he was a juvenile when the crime was committed. The case was then transferred to the juvenile court, where his certificates were examined, and it was held that he was a minor on the date the crime was committed and hence released on bail. The other party was unsatisfied with the decision, and an appeal was made to the Additional Session Judge, wherein it was held that in order to determine the age of a juvenile, the date of production in court is to be considered rather than the date on which the crime was committed. 

This decision was affirmed by the High Court of Jharkhand, which stated that the school certificate is the best evidence in this regard. However, the Supreme Court held the date of occurrence of crimes as the criteria to determine the age of juvenility rather than the date on which such a person was produced before the Court. 

Another issue before the Court was determining the applicability of the Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children), 2000. The present case was filed under the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986, but by the time it reached the Supreme Court, the 2000 Act had replaced it. Relying on the case of Upendra Kumar v. State of Bihar (2004),  wherein it was observed that the purpose of the Act was to help every juvenile, it was held that the 2000 Act will be applicable to the cases pending in any court or authority under the 1986 Act, and those that were still pending when the 2000 Act was enforced and in which the person had not completed the age of 18 years as of 1.4.2001 would be decided according to the 2000 Act. 

The Hon’ble Supreme Court also explained the importance of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, 1985, also known as the Beijing Rules. These rules are applicable to every juvenile without any discrimination, irrespective of their nationality, caste, race, or religion. 

  • It considers the trial procedure for adult criminals and the rules applicable to them to be unsuitable for juveniles. Imposing restrictions and penalising juveniles must be the last resort. 
  • The rules also recognise the fundamentals of the criminal justice system as one of the rights of juveniles, i.e., juveniles must be considered innocent with respect to prosecution. 
  • Juveniles must be informed regarding the charges and given counselling. 
  • They have a right to remain silent during investigation or interrogation. 
  • Their prosecution is done in the presence of their parents or guardian, according to the rules. 
  • Their right to appeal is recognised under the convention. 

Hari Ram v. State of Rajasthan (2009)

In this case, a person named Hari Ram was accused of committing many criminal offences. The issue was related to his age and whether the accused should be treated as an adult or juvenile. After the trial commenced, the Additional Sessions Judge determined the age of the accused to be below 16 years on the date the crime was committed according to the 1986 Act, and so his case was referred to the Juvenile Justice Board in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The High Court, on the other hand, relied on the testimony of his father and medical reports and held that at the time of the commission of the offence, the accused was above the age of 16 and, hence, excluded him from the ambit of a juvenile. However, the 2000 Act increased the age from 16 years to 18 years under which a child would be considered a juvenile under the Act. 

The issue before the Supreme Court was which Act would be applicable to the accused. The Court held that all the pending cases would be dealt with according to the 2000 Act after its enactment, so the same Act would be applicable in the present case and the accused would be considered a juvenile. 

Abuzar Hossain @ Gulam Hossain v. State of West Bengal (2012)

In this case, an appeal was made by the appellate court regarding juvenility on the date the crime was committed. The Supreme Court, on the issue of whether the plea of juvenility should be granted or not, held that the claim of juvenility can also be raised even after the final disposal of a case, which means that it can be taken up at any stage and any delay cannot be a valid ground for its rejection. The burden is on the person making the claim to support the plea of juvenility. It was further observed that the court must not give effect to any technical approach while dealing with such claims. However, the court has the power to reject false and fake claims. The court in this case also observed that the issue of juvenility was not considered at any stage in the trial court or High Court, nor was there any evidence to prove the same. 

The court relied on the case of Gopinath Ghosh v, State of West Bengal (1984), wherein it was held that, even though the issue of age determination was not considered, it was mandatory for the court to discuss the question of age of the accused. In this case, one of the accused who was convicted for the offence of murder appealed that he was under the age of 18 years on the date of commission of offence, and hence falls within the ambit of “child” according to the West Bengal Children Act, 1959 and so the issue of determination of age was framed and referred to the court of the Additional Session Judge.

Jarnail Singh v. State of Haryana (2013)

In this case, the accused was charged with taking the prosecutrix away from her parents and committing forceful sexual intercourse with her. During the investigation, she was found in his house, as a result of which he was sentenced to ten years of rigorous punishment along with a fine by the sessions court. The accused, being the aggrieved party, appealed the decision and alleged that the prosecutrix allured him to do so and stayed with him with his consent. Moreover, he argued that it was proven that the accuser was a minor. The Supreme Court in this case held that the rules determining the age of a juvenile under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007, can be applied in cases related to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, as well. 

Essa @ Anjum Abdul Razak Memon v. State of Maharashtra Through STF, CBI Mumbai (2013) 

Criminal litigation

This case pertains to the conviction of multiple accused under the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 involved in the 1993 Bombay blasts. They were also charged with conspiring to commit such an offence. The evidence in this case includes confessions made by co-accused, prosecution witnesses, documents, and the confession of the accused. The major issue before the Supreme Court was to analyse which of the TADA and Juvenile Justice Acts would prevail over the other. It was observed that the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, has an overriding effect on laws that were in force on its enactment date. On the other hand, TADA has been repealed since way back. On this ground, the Court held that there would be no overriding effect of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 on TADA.  

Jitendra Singh @ Babboo Singh v. State of U.P. (2013)

This case pertains to a dowry death where a woman was killed and burned by three people, including her husband and father-in-law. However, her father-in-law died while the proceedings were pending in the court, and one of the accused, during appeal in the Supreme Court, claimed that he was a minor, i.e., 14 years of age, at the time of the commission of the offence. The Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld the decision of lower courts to convict the accused in this case but also observed that the accused falls into the category of juvenile under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. In order to determine the sentence, the case was referred to the Juvenile Justice Board under the Act. The Court further opined that the objective of the criminal justice system in this regard is to provide rehabilitative and restorative mechanisms to juveniles. 

The Court gave certain safeguards that must be complied with in order to avoid such situations in the future:

  • The Magistrate is under an obligation to record reasons for juvenility of the accused as soon as possible. 
  • A juvenile cannot be presumed to have knowledge about existing laws, especially with reference to socio-economic factors. 
  • The onus is on the magistrate to decide the juvenile, as the juvenile himself cannot be expected to claim it. 
  • In cases where juveniles are involved, their parents or guardians must be involved in the whole legal process. 

Salil Bali v. Union of India (2013)

In this case, a person of seventeen and a half years was charged with the offence of rape in a moving vehicle. It was argued that the 2000 Act must be reconsidered on the basis of the gravity and seriousness of offences committed by children belonging to the age group of 16-18 years. The petitioner urged that it is necessary to consider Sections 2(k) and 2(l) and Section 15 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, in the light of criminal offences that are committed by people belonging to the age group of 16-18 years. It must also be noted that it was in the wake of the Nirbhaya case

The Supreme Court in this case discussed two issues:

  1. Whether a juvenile must be freed after he has attained majority even though his sentence has not been completed yet
  2. Whether the age of juveniles under Act should be reduced to 16 years from 18 years 

On the first issue, the Court held that there is a misconception under the Act that a juvenile must be freed after he has attained majority, even if his sentence remains. It must be noted that if a juvenile has attained majority during his sentence, he must not be freed because he will have to complete his sentence irrespective of his attaining the age of majority. While discussing the latter issue, the Court observed that the aim of the Act is to provide rehabilitative and restorative mechanisms and help to juveniles. The age of 18 years has been decided on the scientific and psychological grounds that, until this age, juveniles can be reformed and restored back into society. 

Shabnam Hashmi v. Union of India (2014)

This case is related to the adoption of children under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. A petition was filed in this case by Shabnam Hashmi, a Muslim woman who adopted a girl, requesting that the court recognise the right to adopt as a fundamental right under Part III of the Constitution. She only had guardian rights with respect to the girl she adopted, as adoption is not permitted under Muslim law. 

The Supreme Court in this case recognised the right to adopt as a fundamental right under Part III of the Constitution. It was held that parents intending to adopt under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, can do so irrespective of their religion, caste, or creed. It was also observed that Muslim law neither recognises adoption nor prohibits a couple from taking care of a child emotionally and financially.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy v. Raju, Thr. Member Juvenile justice board (2014)

This case was filed in the wake of the same Nirbhaya case, in which a woman was brutally assaulted, both sexually and physically, by five people, as a result of which she died. Out of those five people, one was a minor. His case was referred to the Juvenile Justice Board, but the petitioners argued to treat him as an adult and proceed with his trial. 

The Supreme Court in this case, while interpreting the Act, observed that the language of the statute is plain and unambiguous and provides a clear legislative intention of rehabilitating and restoring juveniles. For this reason, it has classified people below 18 years of age as juveniles, whose investigation and punishment are done differently as compared to adult criminals. Moreover, the Constitution does not forbid such categorisation, which is based on intelligible differences having a rational connection with the objective sought. Thus, the Apex Court upheld the decision to treat people under 18 years of age as separate under the Act. 

Parag Bhati (Juvenile) through legal guardian v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2016)

The accused in this case was arrested for the offence of murder and kept in a juvenile home. His father filed an application regarding his age, stating that he is a minor. This was also supported by various school certificates. However, the Juvenile Justice Board, after scrutinising the certificates, had some doubts regarding his juvenility, and the accused was referred to the medical board for examination and determining his age. The medical board opined that he was a major, and so his case was transferred to the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate. 

The Supreme Court, on the issue of determination of juvenility, held that the principle of juvenile under the Act would be applicable only in cases where the accused is prima facie a minor. The present case deals with a well planned serious offence that depicts the maturity of the accused, and he is not innocent. The plea of juvenility in this case was held to be of a nature to dodge the law in place. 

Sher Singh @ Sheru v. State of U.P. (2016)

In this case, appellant was convicted of the offence of kidnapping and raised the plea of juvenility on the ground that, according to his High School Examination (Matriculation) Record, his age was below 18 years of age when the offence was committed. Consequently, he is entitled to the benefit of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, along with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007. The said application was sent to the Juvenile Justice Board, which rejected the plea on the ground of a medical report according to which his age was recorded as 19 years at the time of the commission of the crime. 

A prayer was again filed by the appellant after four years to declare him a juvenile in the Session trial. However, this was also rejected and dismissed. Subsequently, this order became final. He preferred a writ petition in 2013, which was again treated as infructuous and dismissed. However, it was observed that the right of the appellant to raise the plea of juvenility would not be affected. The court observed that Section 7A of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, along with Rule 12 of the 2007 rules, puts an obligation on the court to conduct an inquiry and not any investigation or trial. It was further observed that the inquiry related to the determination of age must be completed within 30 days from the date when the application was made. With this, the court can easily seek evidence and obtain matriculation or other required certificates. The court provided a list of documents that must be referred to in this regard:

  • In absence of matriculation certificate, birth certificate from the school which was attended first must be referred to, or,
  • Birth certificate from the corporation, municipal authority, or panchayat. 
  • A medical report is required only when the above mentioned documents are not available. 

The court further held that the right of a person to raise the plea of juvenility cannot be denied by dismissing or treating the writ petition as infructuous. The plea can also be raised in the criminal appeal, even if it has been raised previously before the board. 

Sampurna Behura v. Union of India (2018)

In this case, a writ petition was filed by a social activist named Sampurna Behura and highlighted the problems faced by children and juveniles in observation homes, shelter homes, etc. She directed the attention of the Court towards various provisions in the Constitution which impose a duty on the state government to ensure welfare and development of children and their failure to do so, like establishment of juvenile justice board, medical facilities for juveniles, proper living conditions, juvenile police, etc. 

The Supreme Court in this case held that the Act must be implemented by state governments properly according to the needs of children and gave the following directions:

  • The Ministry of Development of Women and Children must ensure that the National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights and the State Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights work properly with adequate staff towards providing better conditions for children. 
  • The Juvenile Justice Board and Child Welfare Committees were directed to conduct regular sessions regarding speedy delivery of justice to the children in conflict with law.
  • The Commission for Children’s Rights, both at state and national levels, must perform its functions and duties properly and conduct surveys at regular intervals. 
  • The chief justices of each high court were asked to make the environment of court children friendly for the juveniles. 
  • The state governments and union territories must ensure that all institutions for children are registered and that facilities for nutrition, health, and education are given to them. 
  • Members or officers of the juvenile justice board, child welfare committees, special police units for juveniles, child protection units in districts, etc., must be given proper and adequate training to deal with juveniles.

In Re Contagion of COVID-19 virus in Children’s Protection Homes (2020)

A writ petition was filed in this case relating to the protection of children kept in observation homes and children in conflict with the law kept in juvenile homes and shelter homes in lieu of the pandemic during lockdown. The petition was related to the health and safety of children in juvenile homes and foster and kinship care during the spread of COVID-19. The following directions were issued by the Supreme Court in this regard:

  • The child welfare committees were asked to take preventive steps to maintain the health and safety of children in such homes.
  • They were also directed to coordinate with district child protection committees and foster care and adoption committees to keep records of children who have been sent back home. 
  • Online help desks and support systems were to be established. 
  • The committees were also directed to keep a check on violence and sexual harassment and ensure that no such incident occurs with children in such homes. 
  • The Juvenile Justice Board was directed to take proactive steps to prevent the spread of the virus in juvenile homes. For this reason, children can be kept in child care institutions for their best interests, health, and safety. 
  • Speedy disposal of cases must be done through online sittings. 
  • Counselling sessions must be given to children in observation homes. 
  • The government must inform the child care institutions about all the measures to be taken in this situation. 
  • Steps must be taken to provide adequate staff in the district protection units and child care institutions on rotational basis, and trained volunteers must be given charge of taking care of children. 
  • The government must ensure that all officers and functionaries perform their duties diligently. 
  • Good quality face masks, sanitizers, hygiene products, etc., are provided to children, and the premises are sanitised properly. 
  • Children must be made aware of the spread of viruses and precautions to be taken. 
  • Social distancing must be practised all the time. 
  • If there are symptoms of the virus, the person must be quarantined immediately. 
  • Families who are involved in fostering children were directed to be updated regarding the prevention of the spread of viruses. 
  • A check must be kept on the health and safety of such families and children. 
  • Directions were issued to persuade children to divert their minds to fun and intellectual activities to avoid stress and anxiety. 


The young generation of any country is one of its most important resources. This is the reason every government focuses more on the growth and development of children. The Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, is one such piece of legislation that works for the welfare of juveniles in order to reform them and reintegrate them back into society. 

Judicial precedents in India play a major role in shaping the law and justice system. Every case brings out a loophole that may exist in the law, and the courts provide measures against it. The above-mentioned cases have helped shape the juvenile justice system by bringing out the existing loopholes for the betterment and welfare of such children. Various directions and guidelines have been given to the Supreme Court from time to time regarding any problem or guidelines that come before it, whether it is a question to determine the juvenility of such children, their age, or measures during the pandemic. The courts have been able to deal with every situation and uphold the aim and objective of the enactment. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which Act replaced the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000?

The Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children), 2015, replaced the 2000 Act. 

What is the purpose of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015?

The purpose of the Act is to consolidate the law relating to children in conflict with the law and make such amendments as provide them with the care, protection, development, and treatment they need in order to rehabilitate and restore them back into society as sober citizens. For this reason, various child care institutions and observation homes have been established under the Act. The Act is based on Article 15(3), Article 39, Article 45, and Article 47 of the Constitution, which impose a duty on the state government to work for the welfare of children and their development, along with some international conventions in this regard. 

Who is a ‘juvenile’ under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015?

The definition of ‘juvenile’ is given under Section 2(35) of the Act. According to the section, a child below 18 years of age is termed a juvenile.

What are the features of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015?

The Act has the following features:

  • The Act is based on Article 15(3), 39(e) and (f), 45, and 47 of the Constitution. 
  • The definition of child is given under Section 2(12) as someone who has not completed 18 years of age. 
  • The Act recognises two categories of children:
    • Children in conflict with law are defined under Section 2(13).
    • Children in need of care and protection given under Section 2(14) of the Act. 
  • The Act provides certain fundamental principles that are the basis of the Act and must be followed under Section 3.
  • It provides for a juvenile justice board in every district that has the responsibility of hearing and disposing of cases related to juveniles under Section 4 of the Act.
  • The functions and responsibilities of the board are mentioned under Section 8 of the Act. 
  • The provision granting bail to a juvenile is given under Section 12 of the Act. 
  • It also provides for a Child Welfare Committee to be established in every district by the state government, as given under Section 27 of the Act. The primary responsibility of the committee is to work for the future and welfare of children who need care and protection. 
  • It also provides provisions for rehabilitation and reintegration of children covered under the Act. (Section 39)
  • The provisions for adoption are given in Chapter VIII of the Act. 
  • It also provides provision for the establishment of various homes where children covered under the Act are kept for their development, treatment, welfare, rehabilitation, and reintegration:

What principles are recognised under the Act?

Section 3 of the 2015 Act provides certain principles that the state and Central governments must consider while implementing the provisions. These are:

  • A child under the age of 18 must be presumed to not have any malafide or criminal intent.  
  • The Act also recognises the principle that every person must be treated with dignity.
  • The child under the Act has a right to participate in the proceedings that concern him. 
  • The authorities under the Act must make decisions keeping in mind the best interest of the child. 
  • The Act also provides the principle of responsibility of families, i.e., to care for and nurture children. 
  • The Act provides that every child must be kept safe and not subject to any torture or harassment. 
  • The Act recognises the principle of positive measures to promote the well being, health, and safety of children, along with their development, to reduce vulnerability. 
  • The child must not be subjected to any abuse or harsh words. 
  • It also provides that the rights of children under the Act cannot be waived. This is known as the principle of non-waiver. 
  • No discrimination is allowed against the child. 
  • The child under the Act has the right to privacy and confidentiality during the entire judicial process. 
  • It further provides that institutional care is the last resort with respect to such children. 
  • The Act grants the benefit of deleting all the past records of a child. 
  • It is also based on the principle of opting for judicial process in case of a child in conflict with law. 
  • Principles of natural justice must be complied with at any stage under the Act. 


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