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The Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill, 2021: The changes and concerns

Ankit Anand

KLE Society's Law College, Bengaluru


Introduction:

Recently, the Lok Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021 with the view to strengthen and provide efficient provisions related to the protection and adoption of children. Introduced by the Minister of Women and Child Development, Ms. Smirti Zubin Irani on March 15th,2021, this act contains the provision related to children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. It has been compiled in accordance with the Constitution and with the objective of fulfilling India’s Commitment as a signatory to the United Nations Conventions on the Children’s Rights. This bill has focused upon streams like child adoption and heinous offenses committed by minors. This Act was passed with the view to remove the difficulties in interpretation of the previous Juvenile Justice Act.


Why was it needed?

Even though juvenile delinquency is not new in India, the crime rates are not getting any lesser causing a serious matter of concern. The NCRB report, 2019 reveals a spike in the number of juvenile crimes from 28677 in 2018 to 29287 in 2019.[i] Even different data and audits introduced by the national and state agencies revealed the lacky and inefficient laws in place (after the 2015 amendment) to check upon the Child Care Institutions working. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in 2020, audited the Child Care Institutions and revealed that 90% of them were run by NGOs and more than 39% CCIs were not registered. The data suggested that these home cares had the priority of getting funds instead of rehabilitation of children. So, the bill was introduced with a view to executing measures that will strengthen the child protection forums.

The decision of the infamous Nirbhaya Rape Case, in which a minor convict was released on the pretext that he was a juvenile. This decision faced a lot of criticism and the question arose what the rationale behind 18 years as a bar for adulthood is. And that was the background behind the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which provided for trials of juveniles in conflict with the law between the age of 16-18 years as adults for heinous crimes. Ms. Maneka Gandhi, the then minister of women and child development highly emphasized on heinous crimes that are done intentionally and are organized. Heinous Crimes have a minimum sentence of 7 years as per the law. This was somewhat a good reform, but it lacked clarity in the degree of crimes and was failing to implement laws for child welfare.

The changes to be brought by the new Bill:

· Serious Offences: The major amendment is the inclusion of the category of “serious crimes”. Now, there are two categories of crime “Heinous Crimes” and “Serious Crimes”. Serious Crimes include offences for which minimum imprisonment is three years and not exceeding seven years. This removes the ambiguity and has been brought to ensure juveniles’ maximum protection by keeping them out of the adult justice system. Now the Juvenile Justice Board will inquire in these matters and determine whether the juveniles would be tried as a minor or an adult.

· Power of District Magistrate: Mrs. Smirti Irani addressing the house, said that the new law seeks to make District Magistrates as synergizing officers. After the amendment, the act will provide the District Magistrate will additional functions which will include the monitoring of Children Welfare Committees, Juvenile Justice Board, or other juvenile - related agencies. Now, he has to carry out a quarterly review of the functioning of these various agencies. The NCPCR report, 2018 revealed that when a survey was done on 7000 CCIs and not even a single CCI was found to be complying with the provisions of the Act and 29% of CCIs had major shortcomings in their management.

· Adoption: Presently, the court issues adoption orders establishing the child belongs to the adoptive parents but now with the coming of this bill, this function will transfer to the District Magistrate and Additional District Magistrate. If a person is aggrieved by the adoption order then he may file an appeal before the divisional commissioner within 30 days of the order issue. Those appeals should be disposed of within four weeks of filing. This clause would help in speeding the adoption process.

· Child Welfare Committees: The new amendments put a bar on the opening of new children’s homes, and it can be done only after the permission of the District Magistrate. Now they need to ensure certain norms and procedures to be in continuation. The amendment also provides for certain eligibility criteria for the members of Child Welfare Committees. Some of which are:

a. He/She has not been convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude.

b. He/She has no record of violation of human rights especially child rights.

c. He/She is not part of the management of a childcare agency in a district.

d. He/She must not be removed from the service of central government or any state government or a government undertaking.

The State government shall terminate the appointment of any member if they fail to attend the proceedings of CWCs consecutively for three months without any valid reason during the inquiry or if they fail to attend less than three-fourths of the sitting of the year.

The bill also puts direct supervision on the accountability of CCIs as it has been found in surveys that rehabilitation of children is not their priority and children are kept there just to get the funds which further leads to corruption.


Critical Analysis: Future impacts and concerns

With the new bill, the government has implicated some changes which put more responsibility on bureaucrats. The long going failure in the implementation of juvenile laws resulting in the increase of minor crimes, failure of minor agencies, lengthy procedures of adoption, corruptions, etc. To carry forward the spirit of reformation and rehabilitation of juvenile justice, this new bill has segregated the offences which not only removes ambiguity but also protects the children from adult justice system as much as possible. This act will be responsible for ensuring that minor agencies falling in the districts follow all norms and procedures.

The problems come with the lack of manpower to carry out all these functions. This bill provides the bureaucracy with more responsibility in spite of the fact that they are already over-saddled with a lot of functions. In my opinion, a new system should have been considered to yield the desired results, since the over-burdening of functions will only cause disaster if not properly monitored. This indicates that this bill will be obsolete like previous acts.


Conclusion:

On the paper, though the bill seems to be revolutionary but its implementation in the practical world will decide its impact. The amendment seeks to strengthen the protection of children including the ones requiring protection under the law and those who are in conflict with the law - and also streamlines the adoption process which indicates a good future of the juvenile justice system. It seems like an encouraging bill bringing in transparency and accountability for the best interest of the children. The recent amendment is one of the much-needed steps and has been welcomed by most, but it will not yield results without proper training and monitoring of officials especially District Magistrates and implementation of the provisions.

[i] https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/CII%202019%20Volume%201.pdf

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