A Latin maxim that suits best for the Juvenile Justice system in India is ‘Nil Novi Spectrum’ which implies that nothing is new on this earth. People around the world have long believed that young individuals should be treated more gently. The idea is that youngsters often react with serious and prolonged frustration, sometimes showing aggressive behaviour.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable rise in crimes committed by kids aged 15-16. The reasons behind these actions include early-life experiences, dominant masculinity, upbringing, economic difficulties, and lack of education. It’s concerning that even children as young as 6-10 are being used for illegal activities due to their innocent and easily influenced minds, often at a low cost.

Who is Juvenile ?

A juvenile is someone below the age of 18, as stated in Section 2(k) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000. Alternatively, a juvenile is a young individual not yet meeting a specific age set by a country’s law, and who doesn’t resemble a matured person. This person is not legally accountable for criminal activities and offenses.

Definition of Child and Juvenile as Per The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015

  • As per the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 in India, a child is defined as an individual below the age of eighteen.
  • The Act establishes a clear distinction between children in conflict with the law and those requiring care and protection.
  • A juvenile, under this legislation, is someone below eighteen alleged to have committed an offense.
  • The Juvenile Justice Act acknowledges the need for specialized care and protection for juveniles in conflict with the law, necessitating a distinct juvenile justice process

Various laws within the Juvenile Justice System in India offer distinct definitions for a child and a juvenile. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) designates a child as an individual under twelve years old. In contrast, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 characterizes a child as someone below eighteen. Additionally, the POCSO Act aligns with the Juvenile Justice Act by defining a juvenile as an individual below eighteen years. It’s crucial to recognize that the definitions of a child and a juvenile can vary based on the specific law’s context and purpose within the Juvenile Justice System in India.

History of Juvenile Justice System

Before Independence, juvenile offenders were treated like adult criminals. Post-independence, India enacted the Children Act of 1960 to protect minors from imprisonment and ensure their care and protection, but it only applied to union territories.

In 1986, the Juvenile Justice Act was introduced, bringing consistency to the 1960 Children Act based on the 1959 UN declaration. Despite its nationwide enforcement, conflicts led to its repeal, replaced by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, offering clearer definitions and improved terminology.

In 2006, an amendment clarified that a juvenile’s age is determined at the time of the crime, prohibiting their confinement in lockups or jails. The 2015 amendment proposed trying juveniles aged 16-18 for heinous crimes as adults. It defined orphaned, abandoned, and relinquished children and empowered the Juvenile Justice Board and Child Welfare Committee.

The 2021 amendment strengthened rules on adoption and child protection. Previously, civil courts’ adoption orders were final, but now district magistrates can also issue such orders, reinforcing the legal framework for adoption

Development of the Juvenile Justice System in India

The foundation of the juvenile justice system in India can be traced back to the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986. Unlike focusing on punishment, this act aimed at rehabilitating and socially reintegrating juvenile offenders.

In 2000, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act was enacted, providing a comprehensive legal framework. It established juvenile courts, homes, and special places for children in need of care and protection.

In 2015, amendments were made to enhance the act, introducing Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees at district and block levels. These changes aimed to address previous shortcomings. The updated act also included measures to combat child trafficking, emphasizing the rehabilitation and reintegration of rescued children.

Procedure of Justice for Juvenile in India

The juvenile justice system in India follows a specific procedure:

1. Apprehension: When a juvenile is alleged to be in conflict with the law, they are apprehended by law enforcement agencies.

2. Production before Juvenile Justice Board (JJB): The juvenile is presented before the JJB within 24 hours, excluding the time necessary for the journey. The JJB determines whether the juvenile should be released, sent to an observation home, or kept in a place of safety.

3. Inquiry by Juvenile Justice Board (JJB): The JJB conducts an inquiry into the alleged offense and the circumstances surrounding the juvenile. It may order the release of the juvenile, diversion programs, or if necessary, may pass a disposition order.

4. Diversion: If appropriate, the JJB may recommend diversion, where the juvenile undergoes counseling, community service, or other rehabilitation measures without entering the formal justice system.

5. Adjudication by Juvenile Justice Board(JJB): If the case proceeds, the JJB conducts an adjudication inquiry, ensuring the rights of the juvenile are protected. If found guilty, the JJB passes a disposition order, focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

6. Sentencing and Rehabilitation: The JJB determines a suitable rehabilitation plan for the juvenile, which may include counseling, education, skill development, or community service.

7. Review of Disposition Order: The JJB periodically reviews the disposition order to assess the juvenile’s progress and may modify the rehabilitation plan accordingly.

8. Release and Reintegration: Upon completion of the rehabilitation plan or reaching the maximum age of jurisdiction, the juvenile is released, with efforts made for their reintegration into society.

It’s important to note that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, governs the juvenile justice system in India, emphasizing the welfare and rehabilitation of juveniles in conflict with the law

Juvenile Justice Board

A Juvenile Justice Board, responsible for addressing cases involving juveniles in conflict with the law, must be constituted. This board comprises a Principal Magistrate and two social workers, with one of them being a woman. Importantly, the Board cannot function from regular court premises, and the decision made by the Principal Magistrate is considered final.

In terms of the special procedure outlined in the Act:

1. Legal proceedings cannot be initiated based on a complaint from the police or a citizen.

2. The hearings must be informal, ensuring strict confidentiality.

3. Juvenile offenders, upon detention, should be placed in Observation Homes.

4. The trial of a juvenile in conflict with the law should be conducted by a female Magistrate.

5. When the Board is not in session, a child in conflict with the law may be presented before an individual member of the Board.

Provisions regarding juveniles in Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and in Indian Constitutional Law

Provisions related to Indian Penal Code 1860

In the Indian Penal Code of 1860, it is stated in Section 82 that if a person is below seven years old, anything they do is not considered a crime. This concept is called ‘Doli Incapax.’ Section 83 adds that if a child is above seven but below twelve and cannot understand the nature and consequences of an offense, their actions are not considered a crime. Judges often use a maturity test to determine this. Section 89 protects a child from being charged if their actions were done in good faith or for their benefit, with the consent of their guardians or someone legally responsible for them.

Provisions related to the Criminal Procedure Act of 1973

The Criminal Code of Procedure 1973 has rules regarding juveniles and child protection as well. According to Section 27, if a child under sixteen commits an offense not punishable by death or life imprisonment, the case should be heard by a judge of at least the rank of chief judicial magistrate first class, or by a metropolitan magistrate, or by a court authorized by the Children’s Act 1960 or any law addressing the care, protection, education, and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

Provisions related to Indian Constitutional Law

The Indian Constitution includes special rules for children under eighteen. Recently added by the 86th Amendment in 2002, Article 21(a) states that the government is responsible for offering free primary education to all children up to 14 years old. Additionally, Article 45 emphasizes that the state must provide care, nutrition, and support for all children under six years old

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