The Floundering Juvenile Justice Act

Rameshwar Singh Jamwal
Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 came to be passed by Indian Parliament in compliance to the obligations of enacting such a legislation, as mandated by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution, prescribed in the convention on the Rights of Children and related international instruments. It replaced the Indian juvenile delinquency law, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, and allows for juveniles in conflict with Law in the age group of 16-18, involved in Heinous Offences, to be tried as adults. It also provides for proper care of children in need of proper care, protection, development, treatment and social integration. There was intense controversy, debate and protest on many of its provisions by Child Rights fraternity but the government went ahead with the legislation. The Act came into force from 15 January 2016. It extends to the whole of India, except the state of J&K.
In addition, to streamline adoption procedures for orphan, abandoned and surrendered children, the existing Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) has been given the status of a statutory body to enable it to perform its function more effectively. A separate chapter on Adoption provides detailed provisions relating to adoption and punishments for non compliance. Processes have been streamlined with timelines for both in-country and inter-country adoption including declaring a child legally free for adoption.
After the passing of the legislation, many steps have been taken by different states to ameliorate the lot of children in need of help. Juvenile justice boards have been set up at district headquarters to deal with the children in conflict with law. I am not aware of the situation existing in other states, because this would come out only after review of the legislation and its after effects, but I can certainly comment about its implementation in my state and the steps required to enhance its effectiveness, as the state of J&K is still to frame such a law. I have been associated with a local NGO which has done some work in the field and on the basis of such experience I can say with authority that much needs to be done to achieve the objectives of the legislation and the idea behind such act.
The new Chief Justice of J&K has also shown much interest in the legislation and her involvement, besides that of many men of eminence in the state can give the required impetus to the efforts for an effective legislation in the state. The state has taken some steps, like the appointment of a retired High Court Judge as the Chairperson of a selection cum oversight committee and has also constituted District Juvenile Justice Boards. But the requisite Special homes are not there, nor are observation homes or open shelters. I am not aware of the creation of requisite infrastructure in other states after the coming into force of JJ Act and the lacunae, the shortcomings and its strengths will become evident only after couple of years, when requisite studies are carried out, but our experience in the state shows that there are still large gaps to be filled in. We simply cannot have satisfaction by enacting a legislation, its percolation to the ground level at the desired levels has to be ensured. We still watch hundreds of juvenile stone pelters in the valley, dozens on the road crossings asking for alms, hundreds working in shops and houses against the provisions of law and many other flagrant violations of JJ Act but hardly any steps by state agencies for its effective implementation.
My prime concern at the moment is the total absence of desired requisites for changing the Behavioral deficits or Behavioral excesses of those found in conflict with law. How they acquired such maladaptive and criminal behaviors and what steps are required to change their such behaviors has not been prescribed in the act .Though it is prescribed that Psychologists, foster families, guardians, observation homes. shelters, special juvenile police units etc. will take care of the children in need of care or those flouting the law and all positive measures would be adopted to promote their well being and providing an inclusive and enabling environment and principles of diversion would be adopted for children in conflict with law and Probation officers or child welfare officers would be directed by Juvenile Justice Boards to undertake a social investigation report containing only the antecedents and family background and other material circumstances leading to the commission of such offence, but how such officers can take care of those diagnosed with ODD, CD, ADHD or ASPD or have defective DRD2, DRD4 or DAT Genes when they don’t have even the basic knowledge of such terms.
The legislation has proceeded on the assumption and premise that it is only the social factors which have led such children to commit crime. We have not given any credence to various criminological perspectives leading to commission of crimes and for this purpose the legislators needed to be sensitized before they framed the legislation but all has not been lost as yet. J&K, which had its JJ Act 1997, and had the Juvenile Justice (care and Protections) Act.2013, three years prior to the framing of the Central Act, is likely to bring necessary change after the passing of new central JJ Act but still the policy makers, and the implementing agencies in the state are groping in the dark about the true scope and its implementation in the state. The state has its own legislative procedure and after the formation of the new government, we can bring required changes in the existing act by incorporating the required parameters and the central government can also, taking cue from the model legislation, bring the required changes in the central act. For this, the civil society, especially the law knowing persons must come together to discuss the deficiencies of the act and suggest the remedial measures.
(The author is a practicing advocate of J&K High Court and President of Criminologists Society)


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