In 2016, 17-year-old Swapnil (name changed) was on a joyride on his father’s new motorcycle, when the vehicle crashed into another person, accidentally killing him. In the months after the incident, the medical student started suffering from depression, even as the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) held multiple hearings in the case. By October next year, the case against this 17-year-old student, who was booked under Section 304-A had been disposed of by the Board. The next month, Swapnil left for Georgia to pursue higher studies in medicine. Incidentally, the JJB disposed of the case a day before his passport was submitted for verification in October.
In the last six months, the state Juvenile Justice Board has brought down the number of pending cases from over 4,000 to 1,999, as per provisions under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which encourage rehabilitation of children in conflict with law. The cases — pertaining to petty crimes and minor offences, which involve a punishment of less than three years’ jail time — were pending for more than four to five years. Swapnil’s case, pertaining to accidental death, were also among the cases resolved by the Board.
The Resource Cell of Juvenile Justice (RCJJ), a field action project of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) counselled Swapnil and offered socio-legal guidance. The Cell has been working towards implementing the rehabilitation project in Pune since 2014 . Zaid Sayyed, a social worker at the RCJJ, said it took about an year to dispose of Swapnil’s case.
In the last three to four years, the RCJJ has reached out to 2,727 youngsters, and 1,421 of them were given socio-legal guidance. As many as 13 youngsters were placed in various jobs while 76 were given vocational guidance and treatment. The Boys’ Observation Home at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Udyog Kendra usually has almost 30 youngsters, aged between 16 and 18, and in several cases, the JJB allows them to stay with their parents. M N Darade, superintendent of the observation home, stressed on the success stories that have been achieved due to the efforts taken towards the rehabilitation of youngsters. Every month, the JJB holds an open forum with them to get a better grasp on the issues they face, said authorities at the observation home. “… Efforts are also underway to provide other amenities, so that they stay in a friendly atmosphere at the observation home,” said Darade.
“While they are at the observation home, members from several NGOs such as Pankh, Muskaan, India Sponsorship Committee, Hope for Children, Prison Ministry India’s Pune chapter and others spend time with them. Some train them in academics, while others involve them in different kinds of sports,” said P A More, the NGO coordinator. Sayyed said there was a need to sensitise people about children who are in conflict with the law.
“We have conducted several awareness and training programmes with police personnel. As per the JJ Act, each police station is required to have a special police unit to deal with juveniles. In accordance with the Act, a police personnel has also been designated to deal sensitively with the issues faced by juveniles…,” he said.
Another training session, planned for Pune Rural Police, will deal with other aspects of laws pertaining to juveniles, including basic lessons such as not addressing the children or youngsters as ‘criminals’, not keeping them in the lock-up and producing them before the court within 24 hours, said Sayyed.