Rajya Sabha passes Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2015
The Rajya Sabha has passed the landmark Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2015, which paves the way for a new juvenile justice system in the country under which the age of criminal culpability will now be 16 years and the accused who is 16 to 18 years old, will be be tried as adult under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The bill was first passed in Lok Sabha in May 2015 and later in Rajya Sabha in December 2015. Now it will go for presidential approval to come into force. This Bill is a product of a nation shocked by the brutality of the Nirbhaya case.
The Bill is founded on the recognition of the rights of the victims, which, it says, is equally important as the rights of juveniles. The government reasons that special provisions are the need of the hour to tackle the rising number of heinous crimes committed by juveniles between the age of 16 and 18, especially against women.
Highlights of the Bill :
The Bill replaces the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and states that any person aged between 16 and 18 years and accused of a heinous offence (crime for which there is a sentence of seven years or more under the Indian Penal Code) will be tried under the IPC and not the JJ Act if, after a preliminary inquiry, the Juvenile Justice Board feels that the crime was committed with full knowledge and understanding of the consequences.
Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB) and Child Welfare Committees (CWC) will be constituted in each district. The JJB will conduct a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a juvenile offender is to be sent for rehabilitation or be tried as an adult. The CWC will determine institutional care for children in need of care and protection.
The Bill also lays down adoption norms and eligibility of adoptive parents and the procedure for adoption have been included in the Bill.
Penalties for cruelty against a child, offering a narcotic substance to a child, and abduction or selling a child have been prescribed.
Key Issues and Analysis :
- There are differing views on whether juveniles should be tried as adults. Some argue that the current law does not act as a deterrent for juveniles committing heinous crimes. Another view is that a reformative approach will reduce likelihood of repeating offences.
- The provision of trying a juvenile committing a serious or heinous offence as an adult based on date of apprehension could violate the Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 21 (requiring that laws and procedures are fair and reasonable). The provision also counters the spirit of Article 20(1) by according a higher penalty for the same offence, if the person is apprehended after 21 years of age.
- The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all signatory countries to treat every child under the age of 18 years as equal. The provision of trying a juvenile as an adult contravenes the Convention.
- Some penalties provided in the Bill are not in proportion to the gravity of the offence. For example, the penalty for selling a child is lower than that for offering intoxicating or psychotropic substances to a child.
- The Standing Committee examining the Bill observed that the Bill was based on misleading data regarding juvenile crimes and violated certain provisions of the Constitution.
Omissions from the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 :
The bill omits a provision from the Act which provided for the separate treatment of juveniles or children suffering from leprosy, sexually transmitted disease, Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis, or with unsound minds. It also replaces a provision which gave competent authorities in special homes or the power to move children suffering from leprosy, unsound mind, or drug addiction to special facilities.