Guidelines to facilitate Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs)

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    • Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) has asked the national and state child rights bodies to issue guidelines to facilitate Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) in making the preliminary assessment .

    About

    • This is to be done for determining whether a child of 16 years of age and above can be tried as an adult for a heinous offence.

    Law on trying a juvenile as an adult

    • According to Section 15 of The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJ Act), where a child of 16 years of age or above has committed a heinous offence, the JJB is required to “conduct a preliminary assessment before taking a decision whether the child needs to be tried as an adult. This is taken with regard:
      • To his mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, 
      • Ability to understand the consequences of the offence and 
      • The circumstances in which he allegedly committed the offence” 
    • Heinous offence is a crime for which the minimum punishment is seven years imprisonment.
    • Time period: The assessment is required to be done within three months from the date of first production of the child before the JJB. 
    • Prior to the 2015 amendment in the original JJ Act, all children below the age of 18 years were treated as juveniles. 
    • The Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) is composed of a judicial officer and two social workers.
    • The “consequences” mentioned in Section 15 of the Act would not just be confined to the immediate consequence, but it would also take within its ambit the consequences which may fall upon not only the victim as a result of the assault, but also on the family of the victim, on the child, his family, and that too not only immediate consequences but also the far reaching consequences in future.

    What happens when a juvenile is ordered to be treated as an adult?

    • As per Section 19 of the amended Act, the court can pass a decision on whether there is a need for trial of the child as an adult, or otherwise. The case is then transferred before the children’s court. 
    • A children’s court has to ensure that the child in conflict with the law is sent to a “place of safety” until he reaches the age of 21 years, and is only then transferred to jail.
    • The court can also order the conditional release of the child after he attains the age of 21 years. 
    • Two important protections do not extend to a child who has been tried as an adult:
      • Protection from disqualification, and 
      • Erasure of conviction record after a reasonable period

     

    • If the child is tried as an adult, the sentence can go up to life imprisonment, but if the child is tried by the board as a juvenile, the maximum sentence can only be three years in a special home.

    Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children), Amendment Bill, 2021

    • Empowerment of District Magistrate :
    • It authorises District Magistrate including Additional District Magistrate to issue adoption orders under Section 61 of the JJ Act, in order to ensure speedy disposal of cases and enhance accountability.
    •  The District Magistrates have been further empowered to ensure its smooth implementation, as well as garner synergized efforts in favour of children in distress conditions. 
    • Any Child Care Institutions shall be registered after considering the recommendations of the District Magistrate.  
    • The DM shall independently evaluate the functioning of District Child Protection Units; Child Welfare Committees (CWC), Juvenile Justice Boards, Specialised Juvenile Police Units, Child care Institutions etc.
    •  Child Welfare Committees (CWCs):  The eligibility parameters for the appointment of CWC members have been redefined.
    • Criteria for disqualification of the CWC members have also been introduced to ensure that only the persons capable of rendering quality service with requisite competence and integrity are appointed to CWC.
    • Serious offences: Presently there are three categories (petty, serious and heinous) defined under the Act which are referred to while considering the cases of children in conflict with the law.
    • However, it was observed that some of the offences do not strictly fall under any of these categories. 
    • It has been decided that offences where the maximum sentence is more than 7 years imprisonment but no minimum sentence has been prescribed or minimum sentence of fewer than 7 years is provided, shall be treated as serious offences within this Act.

    Conclusion

    • The apex court stated that when the JJB does not comprise a practising professional with a degree in child psychology or child psychiatry, it would have to mandatorily seek the assistance of experts.
    • While considering a child as an adult, one should look at his or her physical maturity, cognitive abilities, and social and emotional competencies
    • The SC denied that if the child has the mental capacity to commit the offence, then he automatically has the capacity to understand the consequences of the offence as well.

    Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children Act) 2015

    • It was introduced and passed in Parliament in 2015 to replace the Juvenile Delinquency Law and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children Act) 2000.
    • The Act seeks to achieve the objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children as ratified by India on December 11, 1992.
    • It allows the trial of juveniles in conflict with the law in the age group of 16-18 years as adults, in cases where the crimes were to be determined.
    • The nature of the crime, and whether the juvenile should be tried as a minor or a child, was to be determined by a Juvenile Justice Board.
    • The Act streamlined adoption procedures for orphans abandoned and surrendered children.
    • The act had introduced foster care in India.
    • 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.
    • The law had also made provision that while adopting a child, priority is given to disabled children and physically and financially incapable children.
    • Special provisions have been made to tackle child offenders committing heinous offences in the age group of 16-18 years.
    • The Juvenile Justice Board is given the option to transfer cases of heinous offences by such children to a Children’s Court (Court of Session) after conducting the preliminary assessment.

    Source: IE