Juvenile delinquency means the habitual committing of criminal acts or offences by a young person, especially one below the age at which ordinary criminal prosecution is possible. Most legal systems prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles, such as juvenile detention centres and courts. The history of juvenile justice in India dates back to 1980s when the Juvenile Justice Act 1986 was enacted by the Parliament to provide care, protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of neglected or delinquent juveniles. Under the Act of 1986, section 2(a) defined the term juvenile as a “boy who has not attained the age of 16 years and girl who has not attained the age of 18 years”. Meanwhile, India signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), 1989, which treated a person as a juvenile who is below 18 years of age.
Crime by juveniles is a harsh reality in India. In recent times, juveniles are found to be involved in most heinous of the crimes such as murder and gangrape. It is a disturbing trend and society as a whole is anguished by such criminal acts by children. Many experts believe that the present law is inadequate to deal with the situation and we need changes in it so that for heinous crimes juveniles may also be tried and punished as adults.
The juvenile justice policy in India is structured around the constitutional mandate prescribed in Articles 15(3), 39 (e) (f), 45 and 47, as well as several international covenants, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN standard minimum rules for administration of juvenile justice.
This paved the way for an amendment in the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 in India and hence, Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 was enacted. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 is the primary legal framework for juvenile justice in India.
This act has been further amended in 2006 and 2010. In the wake of Delhi gang rape (16th December, 2012), the law suffered a nationwide criticism owing to its helpless against crime where juveniles get involved in heinous crime like rape and murder and then they were spared harsh punishment as they were juveniles. In 2015, responding to the public sentiment, both the Houses of Parliament in India further amended the bill that lowered the juvenile age to 16 and proposed adult-like treatment for juveniles accused of heinous crimes.
The juvenile Justice Bill, 2014 was passed by the Parliament in December, 2015 and it became the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. It came into force from 15th January, 2016.
Some of the provisions of the act are as follows:
- The act replaces the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. It addresses children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection.
- The act permits juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous offences. Also, any 19-18 years old, who commits a lesser i.e. serious offence, may be tried as an adult only if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years.
- The act introduced the ‘Judicial Waiver System’ which allows treatment of juveniles, in certain conditions, in the adult criminal justice system and to punish them as adults.
- The heinous offences of 16—18 years are given the option of trying to a children’s court (Court of Session) after preliminary evaluation.
- Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB) and Child Welfare Committees (CWC) will be constituted in each district with at least one woman member.
- The major change in this act was that now the punishments were severe instead of the normal rehabilitative and reformative approaches towards offences committed by the juveniles.
The government believes that the provision will help to address public disgust over the perception that young offenders are getting away with light punishment after committing crimes such as murder and rape. However, the implementation is a very serious concern and Supreme Court of India is monitoring implementation of the act in judicial proceedings.
No one is a born criminal. Circumstances make him so. Socio-cultural environment, both inside and outside home, play significant role in shaping one’s life and overall personality. Some of the most common causes which are associated with juvenile crimes are poverty, drug abuse, anti-social peer group, easy availability of firearms, abusive parents, family violence, child sexual abuse and role of media.
Poverty is one of the biggest causes which force a child to get involved in criminal acts. Also, role played by social media today appears to have a more negative than positive imprint on young minds.
Children are considered to be gifts from God and are greatest personal as well as national assets. We as individuals, parents, guardians and society as a whole have a duty that children should be allowed and provided opportunity to grow up in a healthy socio-cultural environment so that they could become responsible citizens, physically fit, mentally alert and morally healthy. It is the duty of the state to provide equal opportunities for development to all children during the period of their growth which would reduce inequality and ensure social justice. The state as well the society has a responsibility towards our children in the sense that they would not become wayward and remain in the social mainstream; hence, ‘care and protection’ must be the main motto and not ‘punishment’.