OVER A year since an amendment in the law allowed juveniles accused of heinous crimes to be tried as adults, at least 11 children in conflict with the law in Mumbai, all aged between 16 and 18 years of age, have been transferred for a trial before the sessions court.
The Juvenile Justice Boards of two districts — Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburbs — have transferred these cases to be tried before the designated children’s courts at the sessions court, as provided in the amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
However, lack of clarity on the provisions and implementation of the amended law has left stakeholders, including parents, seeking answers about the procedure to be followed in these cases.
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Of the 11 juveniles awaiting trial, parents of a few told The Indian Express that eight months after their cases were transferred, the minors have not been produced in court even once.
“On one occasion a few months ago, my son was produced before the children’s court. The policemen and a lawyer told us that he will now be sent to Arthur Road jail. We do not know what the fate of these cases will be,” one parent said. The children remain lodged at the Observation Home in Dongri as per the law.
According to the amended law, even children found guilty in such cases would remain in a ‘place of safety’ till they reach 21 years of age, before they are transferred to a jail.
One parent said that recently, the 11 juveniles approached the probation officer of the Dongri home, who has now been directed by the Juvenile Justice Board to conduct follow-ups in their cases and update the parents. Among the cases transferred to the sessions court is that of a 16-year old boy booked for the alleged fatal attack on traffic policeman Vilas Shinde in Khar, a group of four juveniles booked for the murder of a man in Wadala and other offences under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
In addition, child rights experts have questioned the ‘vague’ preliminary assessment conducted by Juvenile Justice Boards to determine which children should be tried as adults. Authorities working in the juvenile justice system say there is lack of clarity on what factors are to be considered and at which stage such an assessment is to be completed.
In several cases, the Mumbai Police claimed to have written to the Juvenile Justice Board recommending that a particular juvenile be tried as an adult. Experts point out, however, that there is no provision in the law for the investigating body to make such an application or recommendation. Apart from submitting the investigation report, the police do not have a say in how the juvenile should be prosecuted.
Other experts said that the children are assessed on unclear parameters.
“The basis of the preliminary assessment is to find out whether the child can be rehabilitated within the juvenile justice system or not. On what basis do you decide that a child cannot be rehabilitated?”
“There is no scientific way of deciding that. In the past, children who have committed what the Act today defines as ‘heinous offences’ have been very ably rehabilitated,” said Maharukh Adenwalla, lawyer and child rights activist.
Meanwhile, the state’s rules for better implementation of the amended Act are still being drafted, with the expert committee set up for the task having held its first meeting only in December.