With the Rajya Sabha passing the new Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015, a look at juvenile justice laws enacted by Parliament in the past 55 years shows that lawmakers have always leaned in favour of reformation and social re-integration of child offenders rather than populating Indian jails with them.
By clearing the Bill, Parliament has sharply veered away from the past “beneficial legislation” for juvenile offenders.
The Bill is founded on the recognition of the rights of the victims, which, it says, is equally important as the rights of juveniles. The government reasons that special provisions are the need of the hour to tackle the rising number of heinous crimes committed by juveniles between the age of 16 and 18, especially against women.
This Bill is a product of a nation shocked by the brutality of the Nirbhaya case.
On Monday, the Supreme Court hinted that the government was equally to blame for the allegedly ‘unreformed’ state of the Nirbhaya case juvenile convict.
Reacting to the Centre’s unconditional support to a legally flawed plea made by the Delhi Commission for Women to further detain the juvenile till he “reforms” himself, a Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit asked “why did you not do it [in the past three years]?”
Even the claim that the juvenile convict has been “radicalised” may be proof of the poor implementation of the existing juvenile justice law. If this has happened, making him even more of a threat to the society at large on release, it is a clear violation of Section 16 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 (as amended in 2006) by which the government should have shifted him to another place or kept him under protective custody.
Starting with the Children Act of 1960, Parliament had always entirely focussed on the using justice and corrective machinery to reform and rehabilitate juvenile offenders rather than reducing it to a crime and punishment mechanism.
The 1960 Act provides “for the care, protection, maintenance, welfare, training, education and rehabilitation of neglected or delinquent children ….”
Parliament did not change its opinion on juvenile offenders while enacting the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000, in which it said the ultimate goal of this legislation was their rehabilitation.