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Juvenile Law in India

Posted by Admin on August 27, 2014 | Comment

Treat the Cause and Not the Symptom. Indian government needs to wake up to this idea when it comes to dealing with juvenile delinquents.

Juvenile Law in India


Like many other legislations, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act underwent several amendments. Lately, the law makers and civil society have called for amending this law to reduce the age of juvenile from 18 years to 16 years and ensure harsher punishments to adolescents involved in serious offences. India’s approach towards juvenile justice is quite in contrast with what other nations practise. Before we draw an analogy, it’s important to have clarity on how the law works at home.

History of Juvenile Law in India

The Apprentice Act was the first legislation on juvenile justice in India, which came into effect in 1850. It had the provision of offering vocational training to children between the ages of 10-18 convicted in courts. It was way back in 1986 that the Juvenile Justice Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha. Much later, Juvenile Justice Committees were set up for supervising and monitoring implementation of Juvenile Justice Act in particular states. The government is once again contemplating bringing further amendments and the Ministry of Women and Child Development has constituted a review committee, which is reviewing the existing legislation.

Recent Developments for Juvenile Law in India

In last two years, there has been a spate of rape cases, in which minors were found to be involved. That propelled the decision to amend the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000. Bringing several amendments to the law was mulled over. The cabinet has recently approved the bill, which will make way for treating minors above 16 years, who are convicted of heinous crimes, as adults. It’s now safe to assume that our MPs are unanimous in their decision to give Juvenile Justice Board the authority to decide whether a minor would be tried in a regular court or sent to a correctional centre.

Juvenile Justice Act and its several provisions were challenged as recent as 2013 when the Supreme Court had to hear eight Writ Petitions alleging it as unconstitutional. In fact that was the first official call given for reduction of age of juvenile from 18 years to 16 years, although it was not listened to by the apex court.

Juvenile Law in US

The juvenile law has more teeth in countries such as US and UK. They have a harsher punishment in store for juvenile delinquents involved in heinous crimes. One aspect which India has clearly ignored is that same law can’t be formulated for different kinds of crimes committed by juveniles. That’s precisely why US recognises the culpability in case of heinous crimes. With the rise in violent crimes committed by juveniles in the 90s, most of the US States were compelled to adopt a “get tough” approach. Around 20 states now allow juvenile offenders to be tried and sentenced as adults in exceptional cases.

Juvenile Law in UK & France

In England too, a juvenile can be tried by the court for exceptional offences like homicide and sexual assault. Although individuals aged 10-18 years are tried by a “Youth Court”, for serious crimes like murder or rape, the case is transferred to a Crown Court (Sessions Court), which can sentence the offender for grave crimes. The Crown Court also gives “extended sentence” to a minor. In fact, if a juvenile is jointly charged with an adult, he/she is tried by a regular court and if the former is found guilty, the court can impose sentence as applicable for an offender who is 21 years or older.

France has a separate Juvenile Assize court that tries serious offences committed by individuals between 16 and 18 years. Back in 2002, the country enacted a law that provided tougher criminal response to juvenile delinquency.

U.N. Convention and Beijing Rules

Neither the UN Convention nor the Beijing Rules prevents juveniles from coming under the purview of regular criminal justice system in exceptional cases. Article 40 of the UN Convention states that the state has the power to establish a “minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law.” Therefore, the Juvenile Justice Act has the option of establishing an age limit below which an individual can’t be deemed to have the capacity to commit crime. To be precise, the UN Convention does not prevent any nation from prosecuting a child under 18 who has committed a serious offence.

According to the Rule 17 of the Beijing Rules, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1985, the response should be “in proportion to the circumstances and the gravity of the offence as well as the circumstances and needs of the juvenile as well as the needs of society.” It further states that “personal liberty may be deprived if the juvenile is adjudicated guilty of a serious offence.” As per the Beijing Rules’ mandate, these rules are applicable to persons between the 7 and 18 years. India needs to ensure that the amended Act deters child offenders from committing grave crimes and also protects their rights as minors.