BY: Aparna Ravi
The trigger for amending the Juvenile Justice Act cannot be moral panic.
A repeal and re-enactment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (the JJ Act), the country’s primary law dealing with children in conflict with the law and children in need of care is one among several law reform projects that the new government has on its agenda. The proposed new bill (the JJ bill), on which the Union ministry of women and child development sought comments during a hasty 15-day consultation period that ended on July 3, is likely to be tabled in Parliament soon. Yet, the haste with which this law may be passed and the surprisingly muted reaction it has triggered fail to do justice to its implications for how our criminal justice system treats 16- and 17-year-olds alleged to be in conflict with the law.
Sections 14(1) and (2) together with Section 17(3) of the proposed JJ bill would allow juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 accused of committing heinous crimes such as rape and murder, or who are repeat offenders for a broader range of crimes, including robbery and dacoity, to be tried in regular courts alongside adults, rather than through the juvenile justice system. In the case of such children, the Juvenile Justice Board is to decide, based on an inquiry whether the child is to be tried under the juvenile justice system or in a regular court pursuant to the Indian Penal Code.
A quick look at the history of the existing JJ Act would be helpful. The existing act, which replaced the 1986 act, was intended to provide a child-friendly approach to juvenile justice based on the premise that children in conflict with the law were in need of protection and rehabilitation, as opposed to retribution and punishment. The JJ Act was also drafted keeping in mind India’s obligations under various international conventions on child rights and juvenile justice, most of which stipulated 18 years to be the age of majority and recognised the need for children to be tried through a different criminal justice system. The age of majority is particularly relevant here as the JJ Act provides for children under the age of 18 to be tried exclusively by Juvenile Justice Boards and courts constituted under the act.
More than a decade later, we appear to be reverting to the 1986 legislation in at least this respect. The public outrage in the continued…