In the light of the recent Delhi gang Rape Case, last few days we have seen witnessed innumerous debates around women rights, VAW(violence against women), required changes in Acts and Policies, stricter monitoring, role of police and judiciary, better governance etc.
During the time of mass public outrage and protests one of the issues raised was the alleged age of
one of the perpetrator of this heinous crime. The public anger refused to recognize and treat the offender as juvenile and demanded capital punishment for all.
Leaving my take on capital punishment aside, I wish to stick to talk about Child Rights and provision under The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and the discourse around it.
The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000
As we all know, India is signatory of United Nations Convention of Child Rights (UNCRC) ratifying the Convention on Rights of the Child on 2nd December 1992. After agreeing to UNCRC guidelines, In 1997 India submitted their first report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This report reflected the situation of children in India, various laws and policies pertaining to children that were established as well as the steps taken by India in fulfilling UNCRC commitments. Soon after the submission of report, the committee responded with list of recommendations which India requires follow in upcoming years. One important suggestion stated was to establish a national age limit that a person ceases to be a child and that to ensure the rights of the child who is in police custody. There after in year 2001 India submitted their first comprehensive period report. This report outlined the actions taken as per the recommendation of the 1997 Committee and the adopted Acts by India such as The Juvenile Justice Act 2000. The establishment of The Juvenile Justice Act 2000 was brought in action during this time repealing the earlier Juvenile Justice Act of 1986. The report stated that minimum age has been define for marriage, sexual consent for girls, voluntary enlistment in the armed forces, legal age in employment/work, crime carried out by juvenile, capital punishment and life imprisonment. Again the committee responded to the report stating that JJ Act 2000 should be extended to state of Jammu and Kashmir which was earlier exempted and that JJ System and personnel need to strengthened through investments in training and awareness programmes. The Juvenile Justice Act 2000 got amended in year 2006 and 2010 and is further considered for another revision. J.J Act is considered to one of the extremely progressive legislation today.
Post the unfortunate incident of Delhi gang rape case, the petition was filed by Advocate Salil Bali pleading that JJ Act 2000 needs amendment as it does not talk about the physical and mental maturity of a juvenile. Following which the Supreme Court has issued notice to the center and Delhi Government on a PIL seeking amendment in the JJ Act to make an exception for non-applicability of the Act for minor accused if they are involved in grave offences.
On the other hand several child rights activists and organization voiced their opinion that any amendment in the existing act with regard to decreasing the juvenile age from 18 to 16 years would prove to be deterrent in commitment to ensure rights of the child who is conflict with law.
On 23rd January’13, The Justice Verma Committee Report made strong recommendation on improving the sorry state of JJ Boards and JJ Homes and recommended against reducing juvenile offender’s age.
From Apprenctice Act 1850, mention in National Childrens Act 1960, initial Act – Juvenile Justice 1986 to formation of J.J. Act and recent amendment in the Act, India has travelled a long distance in making provisions on procedures to deal with children who come in conflict with law. It is an encouraging indication of the Government and civil society’s commitment towards ensuring rights of the children who area in conflict with law. It is clear that there is a major shift in our thinking and approach where earlier the child was considered as ‘criminal’ where as under the law as provision of being treated as child victim of unfavorable circumstances.
Amendments and reflection on our laws and policies is certainly required time and again and should be closely reviewed but reactionary action could possible carry out grave harm to thousands of juvenile who under the observation home has tremendous scope of returning back to mainstream society.