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Recently Union Cabinet has approved the proposal to amend the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. This was proposed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The proposed changes will strengthen the Child Protection mechanism and ensure smooth implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act.
Who is Juvenile in India?
Salient provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015:
The Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 replaced the Juvenile Justice Act of 2010. The salient provisions of the 2015 Act are,
- The Act changed the nomenclature from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with law’.
- Further, the Act defined terms such as abandoned, orphaned and surrendered children.
- The Act categorized the crimes committed by children into three categories. Such as petty, serious and heinous offences.
- The Act provided for setting up of mandatory Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB) and Child Welfare Committees (CWC) in every district. Also, these boards and committees must have at least one woman member each.
- CWC: The Committee have the power to dispose of cases for the care, protection, development, treatment and rehabilitation of the children. Further, the committee also certifies the Child as legally free for the adoption process.
- Further, the Act made the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) a statutory body. This facilitated better performance and functions of CARA.
- All Child Care Institutions(CCI) have to register themselves under the Act within 6 months from the date of commencement of the Act.
- Children in the age group of 16 – 18 years can be treated as adults in the case of heinous crimes. But for treating them as an adult the JJB has to assess the child’s physical and mental capacities and certify the child.
What are the issues with the present Act?
- Non-compliance to the provisions of the Act: A survey conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) points out that not even a single Child Care Institution (CCI) in India was in 100 per cent compliance with the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. This is because,
- If the CCI did not receive a reply from the government within 3 months, it was “deemed as registered’’ for six months, even without government permission. This increased the non-compliance.
- The survey also found CCIs with large funds, including foreign funding, had been keeping children in unsanitary conditions.
- Under this ACT, no specific criteria has been provided to check the background of the members of the child welfare committees (CWC).
- Long pendency of cases: Juvenile Justice Committee of the Supreme Court in 2017 highlighted that about 800-1000 adoption cases are pending in various courts. The committee further pointed out that the delay in adoption is leading to various challenges like not able to get a birth certificate of a child, school admission is not feasible, etc.
- Ambiguity related to the Offences: The 2015 Act has various ambiguities related to the offences like;
- At present, there is no mention of a minimum sentence in the Act.
- Moreover, the Act does not provide what is a serious offence?
- There are little oversight and monitoring of CCIs by CWC and the State Child Protection Units. So, District Magistrates are informed about an offence committed by the CCI only after the occurrence of the incident. For example,
What are the Proposed amendments by the Ministry of WCD?
The recent amendments aim to strengthen child protection and ensure proper monitoring of CCIs.
- Clearing the ambiguity: For the first time, the proposal clarifies both heinous and serious crimes. The Amendment for the first time mentioned the category of “serious crimes” and also defined that.
Serious crime: If an offence under any Indian law attracts a maximum punishment of seven years or more but no minimum sentence is prescribed or a minimum sentence less than seven years is prescribed. Then that offence is considered a serious offence.
For example, possession and sale of an illegal substance, such as drugs or alcohol, will now fall under the ambit of a “serious crime’’.
- Reaching the unreached: The amendment will include victims of trafficking, drug abuse and those abandoned by their guardians under the definition of “child in need of care” and protection.
- Checking the background of the members of CWC more clearly: The amendment will not only check the background of the members of CWC but will also check the educational qualification of a CWC member.
- Expanding the role of District Magistrates (DM): The amendment provides more power to the District Magistrate to tackle the various challenges faced by the present Act.
- Speedy disposal of pending adoption cases: The amendment authorizes the DM and Additional District Magistrate (ADMs) to issue adoption orders for faster adoption of children.
- Increase the scrutiny of Child Care Institutions: DMs and ADMs will monitor the functioning of various agencies under the Act. Like Juvenile Justice Boards, Child Welfare Committees, etc.
Suggestions to improve the implementation of Act:
- Child Welfare Committees are not effectively performing their functions of care, protection and rehabilitation of a child. So, the government have to provide adequate training to the members of CWC.
- Role of State government: State governments should provide immediate bail to a child who committed petty and serious crimes. Currently, children are staying in welfare homes for a longer time period, as the bail is not getting provided on time by State governments.
- Training, sensitisation of DM: The current amendment confers many powers upon the DM. But the DM is already overburdened with the other works. So the DMs should get adequate training and sensitisation for faster and effective implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act.
The recent amendment approved by the Cabinet is one of the much-needed steps to ensure proper implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act. But the real change will occur only if the amendment becomes the Act along with the proper training of officials.