When we talk about India’s growth potential in today’s world, we can’t disregard the importance that India’s younger population plays. With over 41% of the Indian population under the age of 19, this is the age group that will be a primary social driver in this development. With this in mind, it is essential to research, evaluate, and establish the appropriate legal laws for their social, economic, and mental development. This article examines the pros and drawbacks of the new juvenile justice amendment, using historical and current legislation, polls, and research to do so.
The Apprentices Act of 1850 was India’s first piece of law dealing with minors under the age of 15 who were implicated in small crimes while on apprenticeship. The Reformatory Schools Act of 1897 followed, introducing the idea of sending adolescents to reformatory facilities rather than jails. Another important law was the Madras Act of 1920, which attempted to create distinct juvenile courts and facilities, paving the groundwork for a separate juvenile justice system. On a worldwide scale, the United Nations General Assembly established the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of the Child in 1989, with the goal of safeguarding children’s civil, political, cultural, economic, and social interests. India accepted the convention in 1992, and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill was proposed in Parliament in 1999 to conform with the CRC’s criteria, as well as the Beijing Guidelines and the 1990 rules. After multiple modifications in 2006, 2011, and 2015, it was deemed that the Act needed to be made more comprehensive, specify distinct sorts of offences, and streamline the adoption process.
Two sections in the 2015 modification to the Juvenile Justice Act were significant. The first was permitting minors in dispute with the law between the ages of 16 and 18 to be tried as adults. The Juvenile Justice Board, which was established by the individual state governments, would determine whether the kid would be tried as a juvenile or as an adult. The second goal was to simplify and harmonise adoption processes in order to meet the needs of orphaned, abandoned, and relinquished children. In its place, the Central Adoption Resource Authority was granted statutory standing in order to improve the efficiency of its decision-making and day-to-day operations.
On paper, this appeared like an appropriate amendment at the time, and even adversaries of the governing party applauded it. However, a study done by NCPCR in 2018-2019 revealed some alarming results concerning the country’s current childcare establishments. In all, 9589 childcare homes were examined, and not a single one of them was completely compliance with the terms of the 2015 Act. The survey highlighted the lackadaisical attitude of childcare institutions, which just appeared to exist to get payments from the government, with terrible facilities and deplorable living circumstances.
This was linked to a number of factors, the most important of which was the absence of management and monitoring in these institutions. Despite the fact that the institutions were required to register and get a licence, if they did not receive a response from the authorities within three months, they were presumed to have registered, even though they did not have official approval. It was at this point that the necessity for a new amendment became apparent. The revised amendment eliminates this flaw by making the district magistrate responsible for granting Childcare Institution licences after checking that Childcare Institutions asking for a licence have followed all of the JJ Act’s requirements and procedural protections. DMs must also do background checks on CWC members to ensure that they are aware of the sensitive nature of the situation they are working with. The Act takes a step further by requiring CWCs to report on their actions in the districts to DMs on a regular basis.
With multiple checks and balances, it is clearly evident that the new law is about enhancing the authority of District Magistrates to guarantee quicker trials and enhanced protection of children at the district level. District Magistrates will also make every effort to speed up the adoption procedure in the nation. This is a change from the previous adoption procedure, which was governed by the courts, resulting in an enormous backlog for already overworked courts.
However, there are several disadvantages to shifting this additional burden from the courts to the District Magistrates. The primary issue is that DMs are not well-trained to deal with specific statutes such as the Juvenile Justice Act, which is problematic on two levels. First, the Bill’s stated objectives indicate that it aims to “fulfil India’s obligation as a signatory” to the three UN Conventions and Rules noted above. These conventions now include multiple provisions emphasising the need of providing sufficient training and skills to personnel working with adolescents. “Professional education, in-service training, refresher courses, and other relevant modalities of teaching should be employed to create and maintain the essential professional competence of all professionals dealing with juvenile matters,” according to Article 22 of the Beijing Rules. For the time being, the bill makes no mention of how District Magistrates and other law enforcement officers would be taught to deal with adolescents. One may argue that the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare specifically stated in its report that monies will be disbursed for training particular employees, but budget allocation is meaningless if the personnel are not trained. The lack of required guided training also violates CRC provisions requiring States to allow adoptions only by competent authorities, despite the fact that Section 61 of the Juvenile Justice Amendment of 2021 not only allows District Magistrate and Additional District Magistrates to issue adoption orders, but it also prevents any judicial scrutiny at subsequent stages because an appeal from a District Magistrate will go to a Divisional Commissioner (rather than a court) within 30 days. Add to that the results of the NCRB’s 2018 ‘Crime in India’ Report, which paints a gloomy picture in which 85 percent of all arrested adolescents live with their parents. As a result, it is a failure of our society to nurture our children, and there is an essential and immediate need to modify our thinking and approach, as well as our legal rules. As a result, providing the necessary training to all staff involved in juvenile problems becomes critical.
Second, the DM must guarantee that the JJ Act is properly implemented, which necessitates holding regular biweekly meetings with all five arms – Child Welfare Committees, JJ Board, CCI, district child protection units, and special juvenile police units. It remains to be seen how the district magistrate will handle the extra responsibilities of monitoring district child protection units and conducting quarterly reviews of the child welfare committee’s operations.
Although we have come a long way in framing and enacting juvenile laws with this amendment, and it appears to be appropriate on paper, much of it is based on the potential of district magistrates without any concrete system in place to train them in these additional responsibilities, which are quite different from the ones they are currently capable of.