March 14, 2021 1:11:14 am
As of the end of last year, there were over 1,000 cases of children involved in petty crimes pending for over six months in Delhi’s Juvenile Justice Boards. The 2015 Juvenile Justice Act states that such inquiries must be concluded at most within six months of the child’s first production before the board.
An inquiry by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) into the pendency levels in the six Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) found that as of December 31, as many as 367 cases were pending between 6-12 months, and 953 cases were pending for more than a year.
This has led the child rights body to recommend the immediate termination of all such cases. “Terminate immediately all the proceedings involving petty offences that have completed six months and pass final disposal order keeping in mind the rehabilitative need of the children,” the recommendations stated.
Section 14 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 states that when a child in conflict with the law is produced before a JJB, the inquiry shall be completed within a period of four months, and that the period can be extended by a maximum of two months after the reasons for the extension is recorded.
“If inquiry by the Board under sub-section (2) for petty offences remains inconclusive even after the extended period, the proceedings shall stand terminated,” the Act states.
In its recommendations, the child rights body has taken a strong view on what these delays mean for the children involved in the cases.
“The stigma faced by the children and the tag of the ‘criminal’ when cases are being pursued in Juvenile Justice Boards not only adversely affects the mental health of the children, but denies them their familial love if kept in an institution, and personal freedom duly enshrined in the Constitution. It has a significant adversarial impact on the children. Pursuing the proceedings beyond the legally permissible time limit, therefore, would be encroachment of the statutory right as well as personal liberty of these children,” the recommendation document reads.
The principal magistrate of one of the JJBs pointed to the Covid lockdown and said that the board was in the process of terminating the cases.
“During the lockdown, we did not have proper access to records. The records are not online and we could not identify appropriate cases at that time. We need to identify three things: whether a case is petty, serious or heinous; whether the child has been produced before us; and whether the six-month period (has ended). We are working to identify appropriate cases, and once we do, we terminate them immediately. We have already done so in more than 100 cases,” the principal magistrate said.
The commission also stated in its document that it had referred to the legal opinions of experts, including Justice Madan Lokur, Anant Asthana, Bharti Ali and Nimisha Srivastava, in forming the recommendations.
Taking the lockdown into consideration, the recommendations also state that it found that neither the Act itself nor judiciary have granted any extension in inquiries into petty offences under the Act owing the lockdown or a disaster.
DCPCR chairperson Anurag Kundu declined to comment on the body’s recommendations.
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