Children below the age of 18 aren’t considered adults, and the approach towards them is pretty different. Recently, the Lok Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021. This bill strives to enhance and simplify the provisions for the preservation and adoption of children.
The bill shall also allow a Juvenile Justice Board to incorporate psychologists and social workers in the process of deciding whether a juvenile crime in the age range of 16–18 should be treated as an adult or not. The bill also intends to make the adoption process of orphaned, abandoned, and surrendered children more simplified.
The bill was an amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, and contains provisions related to children who have had estranged relationships with the law. It also revolves around children who need care and protection.
Reasons that went into opting for the Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill, 2021:
- The need for the amendment:
Though there was an amendment brought into action in 2015, there was still a lack of certain reforms that were intended. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) audit of Child Care Institutions (CCIs) in 2020, out of which 90% of which are run by NGOs, found out that a striking 39% CCIs were not registered. This was a big blow to the previously mentioned amendment.
- There were many more shocking revelations like the statistics that state that less than 20% CCIs, especially for girls, had not been set up in some states. Shockingly more than 26% of child welfare officers were missing.
- Moreover, three-fifths of the facilities reportedly lack basic sanitation toilets. What’s worse is that almost one-tenth of them have reported having no drinking water, and 15% of homes don’t even have provisions for separate beds. There are also no diet plans whatsoever. In conditions like these, children were often found out to be malnourished and uncared for. This would indeed result in sending them into a frenzy and causing severe physical and mental damage.
- What’s more unacceptable is the fact that though these centers should make rehabilitation the prime focus for the children but sadly, this isn’t the case. The negligence recorded in these institutions was quite frustrating. These child care homes do not take rehabilitation of children as a priority, which was contrary to the very fact as to why they were put up in the first place. Children are reportedly kept in such an institution for the constant supply of funds. These reasons were deemed highly unethical and were some of the main reasons which triggered the amendments.
Key amendments that were proposed by the bill.
- The commitment of serious offenses: Serious offenses would require jail time as a repercussion. These are serious crimes and would require punishment. This gave the power to the jury to extend harsh punishments to the heinous crimes that could overlook the age of the individual behind the crime. The maximum jail time is for seven years of imprisonment. The minimum punishment is anything less than that of seven years of imprisonment.
- Serious offenses are those offenses that demand punishment under the Indian Penal Code or any other law. The time that one can spend in imprisonment ranges between three and seven years.
- The purpose of the Juvenile Justice Board is to inquire the child about the details as to what were the events that led to the accused committing such a serious offense. The severity of the crime is then judged, given into account the underlying reasons.
- The present Act provides that an offense that is eligible for punishment with imprisonment between three to seven years to be cognizable (where the arrest is allowed without a warrant) and non-bailable.
- The Bill amendment was done to state that such offenses will be non-cognizable.
- A look into the possible aspects of adoption: Presently, the adoption order which is issued by the court is the ultimatum. It establishes that the child belongs to the adoptive parents. The bill provides that instead of the court, the District Magistrate (including Additional District Magistrate) will be in the power of issuing such adoption orders.
- An appeal: The bill also provides that any individual aggrieved by an adoption order passed by the District Magistrate is eligible for filing an appeal before the Divisional Commissioner. This is especially handy when the ones concerned with the child know that the adoption issues could further harm their fragile self. This ordeal must be carried within 30 days from the date of passage of such order. Such pleas should be expunged within four weeks from the date of filing of the petition.
- Additional Functions of the District Magistrate: The district magistrate plays a crucial role in determining many factors concerning the juvenile. Some of their functions are as listed below:
- Supervision of the district child protection unit.
- Conducting a quarterly review of the functioning of the child welfare committee.
- Designated Court: The Bill designates that all offenses under the earlier Act be tried in juveniles’ court.
- Child Welfare Committees (CWCs): These are set guidelines that shall determine if a person will or will not be eligible to be a member of the CWC:
- If an individual has any record of violation of human rights or child rights, then they can’t be a part of the CWC.
- If the individual has been convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, then the chances of being a member of the CWC are cut short.
- If an individual has been eliminated or dismissed from service of the central government, or any state government, or a government undertaking, even then he is prohibited from being a part of the CWC.
- If an individual is part of the management of a child care institution in a district, then the chances are pretty slim or maybe non-existent.
- Removal of Members: The authorization of any member of the council shall be discontinued by the state government after an inquiry. If they fail to attend the proceedings of the CWCs consecutively for three months without any valid reason, or if they fail to attend less than three-fourths of the sittings in a year, then they are deemed to have their status removed.
To understand what led to the amendments of 2021, one needs to know what went down in the recent amendments made in 2015.
Here’s an insight into the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015:
- To safeguard the juvenile and ensure they had sufficient basic human aids, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, replaced the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
- Change in the nomenclature:
The Act changes the terminology from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with the law.’ This is done to remove the social stigma that revolves around the world “juvenile.” It aims at removing the negative connotation associated with the word “juvenile.” Several new and clear definitions are added to it, such as orphaned, abandoned, and surrendered children. There are also petty, serious, and heinous offenses committed by children that are taken into account.
- There’s a special provision for between the ages of 16-18 years :
- This special sector is included for making special provisions to tackle child offenders committing heinous offenses in the age group of 16-18 years. This is close to getting mature, and if needed, these crimes and the criminals at times can be given sentences as tough as the adults.
- Mandatory Constitution of the JJ Board:
- It authorizes setting up Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees in every district. Both of these sectors must have at least one woman member each.
- Adoption Related Clauses:
A separate new chapter was based on adoption to facilitate adoption procedures for orphan abandoned and surrendered children.
- It was also taken into account that the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) was granted the status of a statutory body, which enabled it to perform its function more effectively.
- The Act states that the adoption of a youngster is ultimate on the allotment of an adoption order by the court. It was also taken into account that there were currently 629 adoption cases are pending in various courts.
Child Care Institutions (CCI):
For all Child Care Institutions, whether run by State Government or by voluntary or non-governmental organizations, it was made mandatory to be registered under the Act within six months from the date of commencement of the Act.