The Big Picture – Juvenile Justice Bill
Juvenile Justice Bill has been a subject of raging debate across the country and in the parliament as well. The bill has received mixed reactions. Some sections suggest that the bill violates the basic tenets of child rights while others suggest that this is the need of the hour. This Bill is a product of a nation shocked by the brutality of the Nirbhaya case. The Bill is founded on the recognition of the rights of the victims, which, it says, is equally important as the rights of juveniles.
The government introduced the Juvenile Justice Bill in August 2014 in Lok Sabha and gave various reasons to justify the need for a new law. It said that the existing Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 was facing implementation issues and procedural delays with regard to adoption, etc. Additionally, the government cited National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data to say that there has been an increase in crimes committed by juveniles, especially by those in the 16-18 years age group. NCRB data shows that the percentage of juvenile crimes, when seen in proportion to total crimes, has increased from 1% in 2003 to 1.2% in 2013. During the same period, 16-18 year olds accused of crimes as a percentage of all juveniles accused of crimes increased from 54% to 66%.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 that will replace the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 states that any person aged between 16 and 18 years and accused of a heinous offence — defined as a crime for which there is a sentence of seven years or more under the Indian Penal Code — may be tried under the IPC and not the JJ Act if, after a preliminary inquiry, the Juvenile Justice Board feels that the crime was committed with full knowledge and understanding of the consequences. The government reasons that such special provisions are the need of the hour to tackle the rising number of heinous crimes committed by juveniles between the age of 16 and 18, especially against women. The Bill also lays down adoption norms. According to the provisions of the Bill, a custodial institution for young offenders would be set up to house juveniles accused of heinous crimes.
Though child rights activists claim that the Bill violates UN conventions by treating children as adults, the Bill offers some significant safeguards at every stage. Juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18, accused of heinous offences like rape, murder, acid attack, dacoity, will now be subjected to a preliminary assessment to gauge their “mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence, and the circumstances in which the offences were committed”. The Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) comprising a magistrate and two social workers can also rope in child psychologists for the purpose of making this assessment.
A contentious aspect in the bill is the grant of discretionary powers to Juvenile Justice Board. According to the new legislation, the Juvenile Justice Board would ascertain whether the convicted juvenile (between 16-18 years of age) is fit to be charged as an adult or he/she should be sent to correctional remand homes.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all signatory countries to treat every child under the age of 18 years as equal. The provision of trying a juvenile as an adult contravenes the convention to which India is a signatory. The UNCRC was ratified by India in 1992 and the 2000 Act was consequently brought in to adhere to the standards set by the Convention. The UNCRC states that signatory countries should treat every child under the age of 18 years in the same manner and not try them as adults. But, many countries who have also ratified the Convention try juveniles as adults, in case of certain crimes. These countries include the UK, France, Germany, etc. The United States is not a signatory to the UNCRC and also treats juveniles as adults in case of certain crimes.
Children, these days, have access to technology and the crimes committed now are different from in the past. Hence, the government also has to ensure that sufficient training is given for police, lawyers, and child welfare officials on the new procedures and the new kind of offences we are seeing now.