What is the Juvenile Justice Act?
The Juvenile Justice Act covers two important groups of children (from ages 0 to 18) considered to be the most vulnerable – one are children who are ‘in need of care and protection’, and the other are ‘children in conflict with the law’.
The law also regulates institutions meant for the reception and care of juveniles, creates offences where the rights of these children have been breached, and regulates surrender, fostering and adoption of children.
Who is a child in need of care and protection?
The explanation of a child in need of care and protection is quite wide, and includes children who are abandoned or in the care of incapacitated persons, or being made to work/trafficked, facing abuse in any manner, or being denied any rights, or vulnerable to abuse, or in situations of strife as a result of natural calamities and armed conflict.
Children with disabilities can be considered to be in need of care and protection if they do not have anyone to support or look after them, or if their parents/guardian are unfit to take care. The decision on whether they are in need of care and protection has to be arrived at by the authorities under the Act i.e. the Juvenile Justice Board or the Child Welfare Committee.
What happens when a child is determined to be in need of care and protection?
When the situation of a potential child in need of care and protection is brought before authorities like Childline (a 24-hour emergency outreach service for children in crisis), NGOs, public servants, hospital and medical workers, or even citizens in general, they can bring the same to the notice of the Child Welfare Committee who are empowered to pass order to ensure the care, protection, development and rehabilitation of the child.
The Committee has powers to order supervised restoration of the child to his/her parents or guardians, and to pass orders accepting surrender of the child, and also to order foster care, sponsorship, or direct the institutions where the child is placed in to provide for developmental services for the child.
Who is a child in conflict with law?
A person who commits an offence and who has not completed 18 years of age on the date of such an offence, is a child in conflict with the law. The majority of proceedings in relation to children in conflict with law are held before the Juvenile Justice Board.
How is a child in conflict with law treated under this law?
After detainment, a child in conflict with the law is to be placed under the supervision of the Child Welfare Officer or the Special Juvenile Police Unit and cannot be sent to the lock up or jail like adult accused.
Within 24 hours of being apprehended, the child has to brought before the Juvenile Justice Board. Children in conflict with law will be released on bail immediately even if the offense is a non-bailable one, and placed under the care of a fit person determined by the Board, or a probation officer.
Alternatively, if circumstances are such that the child cannot be released on bail (for fear of their own safety or that this release can compromise the case), the child will be sent to an observation home. A probation officer or Child Welfare officer, as the case may be, will help collate the facts and background of the child to help the Board make decisions.
In case of heinous offenses: If a child is above the age of 16 and has been accused of committing a heinous offense, the Board will inquire into the physical and mental capacity of the child to have committed such an offense. If the child is found to have such capacity, then the matter will be transferred to the Children’s Court and the child shall be tried as an adult. Even then, a child shall not be sentenced to imprisonment for life or to the death penalty.
In case of other offenses: If the Board finds that the child has committed an offense, there is a range of orders it can pass – from admonishment to remanding the child to a fit facility for a period not exceeding three years. In addition, the Court can pass orders directing the child to be given access to education, vocational training, counseling and deaddiction services. If the child is also a child in need of care and protection, orders can be passed in furtherance of those provisions as well.
Are there special provisions for children with disabilities under the Act?
- All proceedings involving children with disabilities before the Juvenile Justice Board shall be facilitated by an interpreter when required.
- All institutions in which a child is ordered to be maintained, be it for children in need of care and protection or children in conflict with laws, will have to provide for rehabilitative services, including provision of equipment such as wheel-chairs, prosthetic devices, hearing aids, braille kits, or any other suitable aids and appliances as required, as well as ensuring that they have access to appropriate education.
- Children with disabilities shall be given preference in inter-country adoption if they fail to be placed within an Indian/Non-Resident Indian home within a period of 60 days from the date of being declared eligible for adoption.
- The Act creates several offenses – including disclosing the identity of a child in respect of whom proceedings are initiated under this law; cruelty to a child, employing a child for begging, giving a child alcohol or drugs, using a child to sell alcohol or drugs, exploiting a child employee, conducting an illegal adoption process, selling or procuring a child for any purpose, using a child in a militant outfit or gang, imposing corporeal punishment on a child and kidnapping.
If any of these offenses are committed against a child who has a disability, the offender will be liable to a punishment which is twice that prescribed for the offense.
How can you contact the authorities under the Act?
- The Child Welfare Committees and officers can be contacted here.
- The Special Juvenile Police Unit contact details are here.
- You can also contact Childline on the toll free number 1098.