Children are the assets of a nation. But they’re very innocent and vulnerable and can be easily manipulated. They need to be protected from potential threats to society and also prevent them from doing any wrongdoing. During the past few decades, there has been a tremendous increase in the rate of crimes committed by minors.
In earlier times, there was a uniform system for everyone including the juveniles. However, with time the juvenile justice system is introduced separately with more reformative measures than the basic one.
The emergence of the juvenile justice act can be dated back to the British era. The juvenile justice act was enacted in India in the year 1986. This act seeks to achieve the objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children as ratified by India on December 11, 1992. It replaced the juvenile delinquency law.
After this, the juvenile justice (care and Protection of Children) Act, of 2000 enabled juveniles in conflict with the law in the age group of 16-18 years, who committed heinous offenses, to be tried as adults. It was repealed by another amendment which was enforced on 15 January 2016.
It was enacted to consolidate and amend the laws relating to children in conflict with the law and children in need and care of protection by providing them basic care, protection, and social- reintegration by adopting a child-friendly approach in the adjudication of matters relating to children.
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Who is a Juvenile?
The term “juvenile” is derived from the Latin word “Juvenis,” which means young. This word is often used interchangeably with “child,” as both refer to young individuals. In the legal context of the juvenile justice system, a juvenile is defined as someone who has not yet reached the age of 18. This means that they are not considered an adult under the law and are subject to different rules and regulations than adults.
The juvenile justice system is designed to address the specific needs and circumstances of young offenders, taking into account their age, maturity, and potential for rehabilitation. Overall, the term “juvenile” represents an important distinction in the legal system, acknowledging the unique position of young individuals who are not yet fully mature adults.
The act dealt with two categories of children
1. Children in Conflict with The Law
The Juvenile Justice Act treats all children below 18 years of age equally. However, if a child between the ages of 16-18 commits a heinous crime, they will be tried as adults. Additionally, if a child commits a serious offense (less severe than a heinous crime), they may be tried as an adult if they are apprehended after the age of 21.
For heinous offenses, the punishment is imprisonment for seven years. For serious offenses, the punishment is imprisonment for three to seven years, and for petty offenses, the punishment is imprisonment for three years. It is important to note that no child can be punished with the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Section 4 of the act mandates the establishment of juvenile justice boards in each district, consisting of a metropolitan magistrate and two social workers, including a woman. These boards conduct a preliminary inquiry into a crime committed by a juvenile within a specified period. They also decide whether the accused child should be sent to a rehabilitation center or the children’s court to be tried as an adult. The board is authorized to consult various experts, psychologists, and social workers regarding the matter.
The Children’s Court is a special court established under either the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act of 2012 or the Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights Act of 2005. If there are no such courts, a juvenile can be tried in a sessions court with the authority to hear offenses under the act.
2. Children in Need of Care and Protection
Under the act, it is mandatory to establish child welfare committees in each district with a chairperson and four experienced members, including one woman. The committee is authorized to make decisions regarding the placement of abandoned children, including whether they should be sent to a care home or put up for adoption or foster care.
Critical Analysis of The Juvenile Justice Act 2015
After the gruesome Nirbhaya rape case, the involvement of children in the commission of heinous or serious offenses, especially the ones who were turning into adults soon, became one of the prime issues in the country.
There was a desperate need to revamp the legislation governing juvenile crimes and which is why the amendment of 2015 was introduced. However, it faced a lot of criticism. These criticisms pointed out the need for the government to first figure out the needs and issues faced by children. It suggested that most children suffer from problems like malnutrition, child labor; trafficking, etc.
Most of the time crimes committed by children are to fulfill their basic needs. According to the statistics of the National Crime Record Bureau, juvenile crime increased from 1% in 2003 to 1.2% in 2013. It also highlighted that 87% of the total children arrested had education less than matriculation and 77% of children belonged to families with income less than 50,000 per annum.
Thus, it was suggested that the government should focus on and mend the root of the problem and try to provide better facilities to such children for their overall development leading to fewer crimes and fewer requirements for stricter laws.
Another study highlighted that only 3 out of 1 lakh children were arrested during this decade (2003-2013). Also, these juveniles were only arrested not convicted. Hence the static 0.2% growth in these years was not to be held responsible for the implementation of stricter laws.
Similar Laws in Other Countries
The age of criminal responsibility differs from country to country. For instance, the U.S. has drawn a transparent line to distinguish between juveniles as a result of victims of the inattentive society, and the ones who are well aware of the horrifying consequences of their acts and do it intentionally.
The severity of the crime is an essential factor in the case of the U.S. Also, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled it unconstitutional for a person under the age of 18 years to be subject to capital punishment sentence. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act deals with criminal cases of minors in the U.S.
The U.S. states are planning to adopt the new legislation introduced in Vermont by extending the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts from 18 to 25 years.
This brings attention to Europe which is known for its distinct approaches to youth justice. Netherlands and Croatia follow judicial discretion which means they rely on the judges to decide whether to try an accused as a juvenile or as an adult.
In Germany, juveniles under 21 years of age are treated in youth courts and mostly, cases involving serious offenses result in juvenile sanctions. These three European countries also believe in adopting more educational and reformative approaches to the handling of such cases.
Thus, the U.S. adopting such approaches towards juvenile justice could help slide down the rate of relapsing or reoffending by minors, which is pretty high in their case. Other similar laws are mentioned below:
- Beijing has adopted the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, also known as the Beijing Rules. These rules were established in 1985 to protect the overall well-being of children in the juvenile justice system. The Beijing Rules set forth guidelines for the treatment of juvenile offenders, emphasizing the need for their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being to be prioritized throughout the process.
- Havana has adopted the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, also known as the Havana Rules. These rules were established in 1990 to govern the treatment of juveniles who are in detention or otherwise deprived of their liberty. The Havana Rules emphasize the importance of treating these individuals with dignity and respect, providing them with education and rehabilitation opportunities, and ensuring that their rights are protected.
- Vienna has adopted the United Nations Guidelines for Action on Children in the Criminal Justice System, which were established in 1997. These guidelines aim to provide justice and protection to children who come into contact with the criminal justice system. The guidelines emphasize the need for child-friendly justice systems that prioritize the best interests of the child and promote their well-being and rehabilitation.
- The International Juvenile Justice Observatory was established in Brussels in 2002 to address the issue of juvenile delinquency and promote justice for young people globally. The Observatory works to promote awareness of juvenile justice issues, advocate for the rights of young people, and provide training and education opportunities to professionals in the field. It also collaborates with other organizations and governments to develop policies and programs that support the needs of young people in the justice system.
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was one of the first countries in the Middle East to adopt the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1987. This convention outlines the fundamental rights of children and provides a framework for ensuring that these rights are protected. The UAE has also established its own juvenile justice system, which is designed to provide a fair and compassionate approach to dealing with young offenders. The system prioritizes rehabilitation and education, aiming to help young people turn their lives around and become productive members of society.
Juvenile delinquency is undoubtedly considered one of the most serious social problems of all time. Children are vulnerable and easy to manipulate into committing crimes. It is the responsibility of the government to take utmost care of children to protect them from falling into such social pitfalls.
The juvenile justice act in India deals with the protection of such children and also treats children as adults while punishing them if they commit heinous offenses. Juvenile justice laws are different in different areas but they’re always different from the basic criminal law for adults.