Author- Tanvi Chopra
It is generally perceived by society that children are innocent and would not get involved in unfair means, crimes, or negative things if they haven’t seen it around them or are not living in a similar environment. They are innocent born creatures who have never been taught these things, there could have been some negative impact or trauma faced by them which makes the children get involved in such offenses.
It has been observed in the last few years that the magnitude of crimes being committed by children under the age of 18 have significantly increased in India.
The Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 gives the definition of a juvenile as well as a child. The definition clause gives the same definition of both these words but over the years, it has been interpreted by law that a juvenile is someone between the age of 16-18 years whereas a child is anybody below the age of 18.
Juvenile Justice System
History of Juvenile Laws & Enactment of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015
The juvenile justice system was first established in the United States, after which many countries started to adopt this system in their legal framework. In layman’s language, the juvenile justice system is the system made to handle cases of juveniles who are not punished in the same manner as adults but are penalized according to the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. This act divides children into two categories, a child in conflict of law and a child in need of care and protection.
A child in conflict as per clause 13 of section 2 of the said Act is a person who is alleged to have been committed an offence and has not attained the age of majority at the time of the commencement of that offence. On the other hand, a child in need of care and protection is any person who falls within one of the conditions mentioned in clause 14 of the same section.
The juvenile justice laws are based on the underlying principle of dole incapax, which in general terms means incapable to do harm. It gives the assumption of guilt of children and is mentioned in section 82 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. A child below the age of 7 years is believed to be incapable to commit a crime as he does not understand the consequences and the actions leading to that crime i.e., he does not have the mens rea to commit a crime. The juvenile courts and the Juvenile Justice Board is implemented for the children between the age of 8 to 18 years.
It was applied in the case of Marsh v. Loader, where. a child of 7 years was caught in stealing but was discharged from any penalty following the aforementioned principle. In earlier times, there was no different law to try children for offences, they were given the same punishments as adults but it was observed that this caused a negative impact on them and they learned more crimes while being in custody. Thereby, in accordance with the mental state and the maturity of children, different laws started to be implemented which developed a system that gave the necessary punishments to the children while also considering the state of mind of the child.
It was held in the case of Sheela Barse v. Union of India, that instead of having separate state acts for children, the parliament should enact central legislation. The first central legislation was the Children’s Act, 1960. After that, the Juvenile Justice Act was passed in 1986, then in 2000 and now the parliament has passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and protection of Child) Act in 2015.
This act was enacted by the parliament after the case of Mukesh V. State of NCT Delhi & Ors., popularly known as the Nirbhaya rape case where the whole nation was shocked as a minor boy had been involved in such a heinous crime of rape. The lawmakers of this act brought this amendment so that juveniles involved in a conflict of law who commit heinous crimes are charged the same as adults. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 is a re-enactment of the 2000 act as it retains some of the essential features of the previous act.
The 2015 act divides the offences into three major categories, these are petty offences, serious offences, and heinous offences. Petty offences are those offences that have a maximum punishment of three years as prescribed by the Indian Penal Code, offences having punishments between three to seven years are serious offences, and the offences which have a minimum punishment of seven years are classified as heinous offences.
The juveniles involved in these offences are tried differently based on the type of offence they are involved in. As per section 18 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, any child below the age of 18 years for petty or serious offences and any child below the age of 16 years for commission of heinous offences, would be charged by and dealt by the Juvenile Justice Board which is constituted as per the actin discussion. In addition to this, the children who are of 16 years of age but have not attained the age of 18 yet and are involved in the commission of a heinous crime, the Juvenile Justice Board examines the physical and mental capacity of the child, the board takes into consideration whether the person is capable of and has the requisite mens rea to perform this type of offence. After the Board is duly satisfied that the concerned chid in conflict with the law has the ability to commit such crime, the case shall be passed to the children court where the trial and further criminal proceedings shall take place.
In Raj Singh v. State of Haryana, a child below the age of 16 years was convicted under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and was imprisoned. The apex court held that, since the accused was a juvenile under the Juvenile Justice Act, the entire trial was quashed.
Procedure established by law for child in conflict with law
Just like normal criminal procedures followed for accused persons in criminal law, a procedure is also followed for the children in conflict with the law, and such procedure is dealt in Chapter IV of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. As soon as the child in conflict with law is apprehended by the police, he is placed before a special juvenile unit or a child welfare officer who takes care to produce the child before the Juvenile Justice Board without any wastage of time. The person who has been assigned to the child has the responsibility to take care of the child in a manner as that of a parent or a guardian for the tenure as given by the Board.
If the Board feels that the parents are fit for exercising charge over the child, the child can go to their parents after the Board duly permits. Section 12 clearly states that a person who is alleged to have committed a crime shall be released on bail and if the child is not released, he shall be sent to an observation home or a place of safety where the child can be kept safe. The parents or the guardian of the child should be informed as soon as the child is apprehended by the police and is given charge to a separate officer. The Board then conducts an inquiry with the child after which the type of offence, the category of offence, and other important factors are duly decided by the Board.
The Board takes all the necessary steps to ensure a fair and speedy inquiry for the child as the child’s interests are to be taken into consideration. After all, this has been concluded, the relevant order is given by the Board. This is the procedure that is followed in India for all Juvenile related matters.
The apex court, in the case of Munna v. State of Uttar Pradesh, directed that even if a child is found to be guilty of an offence, the fundamental rights should not be locked up and the child should not be mistreated in jail.
Juvenile Justice System and the procedures followed by the courts to handle juvenile matters in a way that the juveniles are penalised as well as their best interest are taken into consideration, is one of the most essential requirements of the justice system prevailing in our country. The juveniles who are exposed to such negativity that it enables them to be involved in committing such crimes of different magnitudes gives us a hint that children need to be made more aware of the consequences of their acts as to how it can affect the society, the victim and their own self.
The enactment of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 is a compendious act covering almost every aspect needed for the betterment of the juveniles in our country and also clearly lays down a procedure as to how to penalise the children who are in conflict with the law. In the author’s opinion, the enactment of this act has been an evident solution in handling such matters.
The magnitude of offences can vary vastly and the children need to be made aware of the punishments and the consequences they shall suffer while getting involved in such acts. Therefore, the 2015 act and the justice system are of utmost importance and should be very stringently be followed in the country.
Author Tanvi Chopra is a second-year law student from Bennett University, Greater Noida. She believes that such socio-legal issues should be handled with utmost care and caution as they are very delicate matters.