The involvement of young children in heinous crimes is a growing matter of concern in our country. This paper will be an attempt to unfolding the basic procedures associated with the juvenile justice system in India. This will be done through an analysis of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. An outline of the history or background of the juvenile justice system would be explained. More emphasis would be given to the probable causes of juvenile delinquency and suggestive measures for the same.
As demonstrated by the UNCRC ‘a youth means every individual underneath the age of eighteen years unless, under the law pertinent to the child, the overwhelming part is accomplished sometime recently’. The Latin maxim “doli incapax” is the basis of juveniles being exempted from criminal liability or awarded meagre punishment. The meaning of the term is that the person is incapable of forming an intent required to constitute a crime. But, recent trends in juvenile cases show something heavily contrasting.
Children are considered to be of less mental maturity and incapable of distinguishing between moral and immoral. The Honorable Supreme Court in Sheela Barse and another v. Union of India has declared that a child is a national asset. Henceforth, protection and reformation of children are of utmost importance.There are a number of causes of juvenile delinquency, ranging from psychological to the financial condition of the children.
History of Juvenile Justice in India
The origin of the juvenile justice system dates back to the British period. The “Madras Children Act 1920” was the first act to be enacted which was narrowly followed by Bengal and Bombay in 1922 and 1924, respectively. After this, the children were broadly categorised into two: delinquent and neglected children. The idea of confining such as children in juvenile homes to transform their character was initiated in this way.
These children were to be kept in rehabilitative and remand homes or can be released on their good character, with a possibility of imprisonment when the nature of the offence was serious and the character of the offender so depraved as to justify imprisonment. There had been plenitude of legislation related to juvenile justice in India. These include ‘Apprentices Act 1850’, ‘The Reformatory School Act 1876’,‘Children Act 1960‘ and many more. The most significant legislation was, however, the‘Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000’, which was amended in the year 2006 and 2015.
Aftermath of Nirbhaya case
In the ‘Delhi gang-rape case’ the offender who was minor performed the most deadly and heinous part of the crime. However, when other criminals were sentenced to death, he was given a mere 3 years of imprisonment. Such instances make it crucial to pause and think that whether the minor, say in this case, was not mature enough to form a “guilty mind” or incapable of forming the “intent” necessary for committing the said crime.
Nirbhaya case prompted pivotal changes in criminal law. One major change was the amendment of the Juvenile Justice Act.The “Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015” came into effect from 31st December 2015.
Major features of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015
- Establishment of Juvenile Justice Boards in all districts to specially deal with children in conflict with the law.
- Specifies the composition and powers of the Juvenile Justice Board.
- Classification of crimes into three heads: petty offences, serious offences and heinous offences.
- Profound consideration of the mental capacity of the child. A child who is alleged to have committed a heinous offence and above sixteen years of age would be firstpresented before the Juvenile Justice Board. The Board has the power to decide whether the Juvenile has to be sent for trial or to the rehabilitation centre.
- According to Section 2(12) of the act, a child is “a person who has not completed 18 years of age”. Two major heads of children are “child in need of care and protection” and “child in conflict with law”.
- Orders in the best interest of the child that allow rehabilitation of the child, as envisaged in the Preamble and fundamental principles.
Determination of age of the Juvenile
As children or juvenile frequently do not have any evidence regarding their age, in that case, medical examination of the child proves the age, even if ossification test of multiple joints is conducted. In the case of Re Chinnathambi, the Court observed and prescribed some guidelines todetermine the age of juvenile in Juvenile Justice System:
- Finding the age of the juvenile should be recorded based on proper and exact evidence.
- For removing conflicts in evidence produced regard could be given to oral evidence.
- School certificate of the child should be considered precise and accurate.
- All possible efforts must be done by Court to determine the age of Juvenile.
- A document like birth certificate, school leaving certificate should be given priority as compared to radiological examination and physical features.
What are the principles that form the basis of Juvenile Justice in India?
- Principle of presumption of innocence: a child is presumed to be innocent of any mala fide intention unless below eighteen years of age.
- Principle of dignity and worth: all citizens must be treated with dignity.
- Principle of participation: every child shall be allowed to be heard and to participate in matters affecting his/her life. Views of the child will be given due respect in accordance with the mental maturity and age of the child.
- Principle of best interest: decisions taken would be such that it is in the best interest of the child.
- Principle of family responsibility: basically, the responsibility of the child would be of the biological, adoptive or foster parents as the case may be.
- Principle of safety: measures will be taken to ensure that the child is safe.
- Positive measures: resources would be mobilised including family and community to make sure that all measures are taken for the well-being of the child.
- Principle of non-stigmatising semantics: accusatory words are not supposed to be used.
- Principle of non-waiver of rights: no waiver of any rights of the child is permissible.
- Principle of equality and non-discrimination: no child shall be discriminated based on caste, sex, place of birth etc. Every child would be treated equally.
- Principle of right to privacy and confidentiality: throughout the judicial process, every child can exercise the right to privacy.
- Principle of institutionalisation as a measure of last resort: institutional care would be the last step taken in order to care for the child after the inquiry.
- Principle of repatriation and restoration: children who come under the purview of the Juvenile Justice Act would be given every chance to reunite with their family and go back to their normal conditions as soon as possible. This will not be applicable if it is not in the best interest of the child.
- Principle of a fresh start: records of all children must be necessarily deleted, except in special circumstances.
- Principle of diversion: methods other than judicial proceedings may be used to manage children in conflict with the law, provided it is in the best interest of the child and the society.
- Principles of natural justice: procedural fairness will be completely adhered to by the concerned authorities.
These principles form the basis of Juvenile Justice in India.
Causes of Juvenile Delinquency
Development of a child takes place primarily at home with parents being the first teachers. Abuse at home or presence of criminally minded people at home can trigger malicious intentions in the immature minds of children. The young and naïve mind of a child can easily be provoked by the wrong advice. This would include the peer pressure and bad circle of friends. Teachers in schools also play a key role in moulding a child’s character.
In a developing country like India, there are a number of children who are not fortunate enough to receive even elementary education. This can be attributed to the poor economic conditions prevailing in many areas. Such situations force them to live in unhygienic and unhealthy environments. The direct result of the same would be a negative idea about life. This list with regard to the reasons for juvenile delinquency is never-ending. But, the most important reason would, however, be the circumstances at which the child committed the said crime. Explanation to many things can be unfolded through an analysis of the typical situations that triggered the “negative transformation of a young mind”.
There is indeed no doubt that children carry paramount importance in a society. The judicial system must ensure that any wrongful character among children is “reformed”. Rehabilitation homes play a great role in achieving this. However,the author opines that while considering heinous crimes such as rape which does not possess any “child-like” elements in it, more focus can be given to the victim than the juvenile offender. This opinion is supported by the fact that ‘exemption of being a child is deserved by an act that has at least a few ingredients of childishness’. The decision would anyway depend on the facts of the case and may change from one case to another. Moreover, the clear demarcation of crimes as petty, heinous and serious crimes can contribute a lot towards upholding justice.
Routiya, Venudhar. (2016). A Critical Study of Children Under Juvenile Justice System in India. IOSR Journal of Electronics and Communication Engineering. 11. 81-86. 10.9790/2834-1104038186.
 UNIVERSITY OF DELHI & ANR, AIR 1986 SC 1873
Wrobleski.M, Henry(2000) an introduction to law enforcement and criminal justice, Thomson learning, USA,pp-540-541
VedKumari’s, The Juvenile Justice System in India from Welfare to Rights, 186 (UpendraBaxi, 1sted. 2004).
Kuldeep K. Mahto v. the State of Bihar, (1998) 6 SCC 420
Re Chinnathambi case, (1961) MLJ (Cri) 671.
- Routiya, Venudhar. (2016). A Critical Study of Children Under Juvenile Justice System in India. IOSR Journal of Electronics and Communication Engineering. 11. 81-86. 10.9790/2834-1104038186.