The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the bill’) which amends the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 was recently passed by the Rajya Sabha after being tabled in the Lok Sabha in March. The Bill did not receive too much opposition and was passed with overwhelming support from both the opposition and the ruling party. The Bill brings in certain key changes with regard to the power of district magistrates as well as in classification of offences.
What is the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015?
The Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’) is the act governing the juvenile justice system in India. It was passed in 2015 and replaced the now-repealed Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children Act), 2000. The Act deals with the trial of juveniles as adults i.e. those from 16-18 years of age. It provides for a Juvenile Justice Board to decide whether a juvenile should face trial as a child or not, depending on the crime committed and the circumstances surrounding it. The Act also brought in certain provisions relating to adoption and the procedure to adopt.
The Act at the time of passing, received huge backlash from Child Right Activists and opposing MPs who argued that punishing juveniles should not overshadow the prospect of educating them, especially considering the fact that many who commit crimes at a young age are illiterate and economically backward. Even till date, there are question marks that remain over the Act with organizations that stand for child rights pushing for it to be repealed or amended.
The Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill, 2021 – Changes brought in
The latest amendment bill brings in a few crucial changes to the original act, although most of these don’t concern the earlier mentioned criticisms of the Act. While presenting the Bill, Minister for Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani stated that the bill would give more responsibilities to District Magistrates to ensure fast trials as well as fast adoption procedures.
The changes that have been brought in are as follows:
Increased power and responsibilities for District Magistrates
The bill provides District Magistrates (DMs) with the power and responsibility to ensure that all provisions of the Act are implemented. More specifically, it requires them to supervise the functioning of agencies such as Child Welfare Committees, Juvenile Protection Units, Juvenile Justice Boards, etc. The change has been brought in due to the fact that a plethora of such institutions were found to not be conforming to the provisions of the Act.
The bill also requires every DM to check on members of such institutions, especially Child Welfare Committees. Background checks, criminal charges and the like are to be looked at and verified by the DM to remove any probability of child abuse and the like. For the same, the committees must adhere to the DM’s requirements and file reports on their activities and that of their members. Further, DMs are also tasked with issuing adoption orders.
While all of these changes have been welcome ones that have been brought in to ensure the smooth functioning of welfare committees, boards and protection units, concerns have been raised that the responsibilities placed on the DMs are excessive.
Clarification of offences and punishments
There was quite a bit of ambiguity previously regarding certain terminology in the original Act such as ‘heinous offences’ and ‘serious offences’. The bill has clarified the same and brought in minor changes in punishments. Serious offences would now include those for which maximum punishment is more than seven years of imprisonment. Heinous offences are those with a maximum imprisonment of seven years.
Although the amendment bill does not address the original concerns that were raised when the original act was passed, it seems like a step in the right direction as it provides for better functioning and operation of committees, boards and protection units. DMs might feel hard done by however, and it remains to be seen if some burden will be eased on them after the bill comes into force as an Act.