State level consultation on Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Bill


image_previewNewZNew (Chandigarh) : A state level consultation on Juvenile Justice Bill, 2014 was organised by CRY- Child Rights and You in Chandigarh. The objective of this consultation was to understand child protection mechanisms in the state and also to discuss the proposed bill and to seek inputs from relevant stakeholders and civil society groups.

The consultation saw attendance from child rights stakeholders. Ms. Savitri Dhaka, Chairperson, SCPCR, Haryana, Dr. Upneet Lalli, Deputy Director, Institute of Correctional Administration, Chandigarh, Ms. Komal Ganotra, Director, CRY- Child Rights and You, Dr. Bharti Ali- Haq Center for Child Rights, Mr. Anant Kumar Asthana, Lawyer and Expert on JJ Act and district CWC members of the state were present to throw more light on the proposed bill.

The consultation emphasized on how the present Juvenile Justice system was evolved, the thought process, international experience and how it has fared so far in India were discussed and debated. The major debate in this proposed Act is reduction in age from 18 to 16 years, which implies that any child who is below 18 years can be tried as per adult laws. The panellists in the consultation were of the opinion that the current scenario of implementation machinery showcases the low priority accorded to the reform oriented aspects of the legislation. This is the reason children are considered to be less culpable than adults and the legislation factor in this important differentiation. The purpose of the JJ Act is to help the child understand the serious consequences of their actions and allow them to reform and heal but the present scenario is focused too tightly on the quantum of punishment rather than looking into what the existing approach actually offers, both to the juvenile and also for making the child accountable.

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Children in Conflict with Law

The Juvenile Justice Bill 2014 allows children between 16 to 18 years alleged to have committed heinous offences to be tried and sentenced as adults. While it does not expressively lower the age of a child in conflict with law from 18 to 16 years, the effect is same, as children above 16 years can be tried and treated as adults. It thus completely destroys the rehabilitative foundation of the existing juvenile justice system in India by adopting a retributive approach for heinous crimes committed by children in this age group. The term “heinous” has been broadly cast which means increased possibility of a greater number of children to be tried as adults.

Another important point is transfer of child (16 to 18 years) alleged to have committed a heinous offence to adult system through children’s court. The reality is that these courts largely exist on paper and there are no separate ‘Children’s Courts’ as such. These children will be then tried as adults by this court which is completely opposed to the Bill’s purpose of adopting a child friendly approach. There is no mention of the children who are not transferred.

Children in Need of Care and Protection  

The existing labour laws do not take into account children working in the age group of 14-18 years and given this amendment even the JJ Act will not address their concerns. This age group is highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation at work. The Juvenile Justice Act supersedes all legislation and the definition of child in JJ Act also supersedes that of any other legislation. This bill refers of children who are being or likely to be abused, it leaves out children who have been abused in the past. The bill has various gaps with respect to selection as well as other procedures with respect to Child Welfare Committees (CWC). There is no provision for constitution of selection committee and its procedures etc. which will dilute the procedure of selection. It also grants over-arching powers to District Magistrates (DM) for conducting a quarterly review of the functioning and grievance redressal of the CWC. This would limit CWC’s power to question the District Magistrate for violation of child rights in the district.

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Adoption: Many provisions in the proposed bill indicate a very strong preference for inter country adoption. The concept of adoption, adoption among relatives irrespective of religion, inter-country adoption and punitive measures for adoption without a valid court are referred together. The role of Child Welfare Committee is also silent in the proposed Act. The time limit of one month before a child goes into inter-country adoption is very less as the process of adoption involves multiple procedures. Child study report, medical examinations, procedural documentation takes a lot of time. This is like making an enabling process to let most children to be opted for inter-country adoptions.

We have seen large number of cases of abuse reported from various child care institutions and there is a need for review of the monitoring mechanisms. While the new bill refers to this change, the provisions mentioned are insufficient for proving a comprehensive framework of monitoring.