The Lok Sabha recently passed a Bill that seeks to empower district magistrates (DMs) and additional DMs to monitor the functions of agencies responsible for the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act. The Bill seeks to ensure that action is taken without waiting “for a child to become a victim”.
The Opposition, however, had concerns regarding overburdening of DMs but this was rejected by the government saying the amendments only make them “Synergising Officers”.
The Bill was an amendment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which says: “…children alleged and found to be in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection by catering to their basic needs through proper care, protection, development, treatment, social re-integration, by adopting a child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposal of matters in the best interest of children and for their rehabilitation through processes provided, and institutions and bodies established, herein under and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
The Act followed the standards set in UN rules for the administration of justice for juveniles. However, with time, it has been expanded vastly from just delinquency to catering the basic needs of children to strengthen the child care system, the adoption process and to widen the ambit of serious offences committed by a juvenile.
The changes introduced are as follows:
- The term “administrator” is omitted, and “child care institution” is substituted by “children’s home” under Section 2.
- “District Child Protection Unit” is now well-defined under the supervision of the DM (or ADM), which was not the case in the 2015 Act.
- The definition of “serious offences” includes those for which the punishment under the IPC or any other law presently is imprisonment between three to seven years. This is substituted by
a) minimum imprisonment for a term more than three years and not exceeding seven years; or
b) Maximum imprisonment for a term more than seven years but no minimum imprisonment or minimum imprisonment of less than seven years is provided.
- Along with the term “observation home”, the term “place of safety” is added in accordance to provide prosperity and safety to a juvenile.
- An additional power of Review of Pendency of Inquiry has been given to the DM under Section 16 of the Act.
- The powers of Board to decide on matters has been extended under Section 18 to the extent that when a child above 16 years is found to be in conflict with law under the head of “heinous crime”, the Board after preliminary assessment can dispose of the matter. This was not the case in the 2015 Act. Earlier, the Board could only pass such orders with respect to “heinous crime” committed by a child below 16.
- Under the subject of “Child Welfare Committee”, the pre-requisites for members appointed have been enhanced. A member must have a degree in child psychology, psychiatry, law, social work, sociology, human health, education, human development or special education for differently abled children, along with seven years’ experience in the stated fields. Introduction of Clause 4A, i.e. the eligibility criteria for the selection as a member of the Committee has been incorporated under Section 27 of the 2015 Act.
- The term “Child Welfare Officer” has been struck down under Section 37 of the Act.
- The term “District Magistrate” has been inserted under Section 38 to draw power concerning the procedure for declaring a child legally free for adoption directly under a DM along with the state agency and concerned authority.
- Under the head of Inspection of Institutions (Section-54), the power has been replaced by DMs in place of “District Child Protection Units or State Government”.
- Additional functions of the DM: Similarly, under Sections 54, 56, 58, 59, 60, 61, 63, 64 and 65, the word “Court” is substituted by “District Magistrate”; i.e. the power to pass relevant orders has been given to the DM.
- Designated courts: Under the head of Classification of Offences, an offence which is cognisable and non-bailable shall be triable by the children’s court instead of a magistrate of first class or any magistrate, which was the case earlier.
The 2021 Bill is introduced keeping in mind the sensitivity of issues pertaining to child protection. It would empower DMs to effectively coordinate and monitor the functions of various agencies responsible for implementing the Act, authorise orders of adoption, strengthen the Child Welfare Committee by incorporating provisions relating to educational qualifications for the members and stipulating eligibility conditions for selection of the committee.
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The Bill was introduced keeping in mind several shortcomings in the operation of the Act such as termination of tenure of a member of the child welfare committee if he fails to attend the proceedings. Also, taking account of the Nirbhaya case and the recommendations by Justice Verma Committee, constituted to recommend amendments to the criminal law, it seeks to eliminate difficulties regarding categorisation of offences wherein the maximum sentence is more than seven years’ imprisonment. It also adds that serious offences will include offences for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment of more than seven years. The minimum punishment is not prescribed or is of less than seven years and an act punishable with imprisonment between three to seven years will be non-cognizable (bailable) which was not the case earlier.
The amendment seeks to ensure that action is taken without waiting for a child to become a victim.
—By Akarsh Sharma and India Legal News Service