In the wake of the Union Cabinet passing the National Child Policy that finally resolved the question of who is a child last week,the Juvenile Justice Act that is being amended,will replace the word juvenile with child.
In the amended Act,the emphasis will be on care and protection of the child in conflict with the law rather than bringing the child offender to justice,as the present law seems to suggest. The expert committee is also looking at a graded system of detention for underage delinquents,depending on their age and severity of crime. The JJ Act has been in the eye of the storm since the December 16 Delhi gangrape when the age of one of the accused threw the spotlight on the law. A debate ensued over whether the age bar for juveniles to be tried as adults should be negotiable depending on the heinousness of the crime.
The National Child Policy for the first time gives a uniform definition of a child as a person aged less than 18 years. It also marks a clear shift from a welfare-centric 1974 policy to rights-based approach towards children. Officials say J J Act will be the first legislation to harbour this spirit.
An official with the Ministry of Women and Child Development said the new name of Act has not been decided. The committee has reached a consensus on replacing the word juvenile because over the years,the word has come to signify an underage person in conflict with the law as against the word child where the individual is deemed innocent,it has acquired a pejorative implication. Even the existing law deals not only with the penal provisions but also the structure for care and protection of the child. That aspect will be emphasised in the new name, the official said.
The new child policy,officials say has left that elbow room in its provision that children should be handled in an age-appropriate manner.