Sunday, February 5, 2023

Saving the Children

The new Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021, is a progressive legislation. The key changes brought to the juvenile laws reinforce the protection of children and also streamline the adoption system for juveniles.

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The Ministry of Women and Child Development has issued the notification for draft amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Model Rules, 2016, and invited feedback. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021, which seeks to amend the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on July 28, 2021. The Bill was introduced in Parliament by the government in the Budget session this year.

It was passed in Lok Sabha on March 24, 2021.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani while introducing the Bill stressed upon the necessity for entrusting district magistrates with the responsibility of care and protection of vulnerable children in the light of the prevailing inadequacies in the system.

The rules published by the ministry mandate transfer of authority to district magistrates and additional district magistrates for adoption and overseeing childcare institutions and welfare of children in need of care, including children in conflict with the law. District magistrates have been further empowered under the new rules to ensure its smooth implementation, as well as synergised efforts in favour of children in distressed conditions. Under the new rules, district magistrates and additional district magistrates will oversee actions taken in respect to child marriage cases in their respective districts and facilitate action for education and awareness regarding impact of child marriage on children. They are also to ensure supervision and support for girls and boys saved from child marriage.

Accordingly, under the amended provisions, any child care institution shall be registered after considering the recommendations of the district magistrate. The district magistrates shall independently evaluate the functioning of district child protection units, child welfare committees, juvenile justice boards, specialised juvenile police units, child care institutions, etc. Under the amendments, the district magistrate as well as the additional district magistrate have been empowered to oversee adoption under Article 61 of the Juvenile Justice Act. This will expedite such cases as well as add accountability.

As per the proposed rules, the child welfare committees will now furnish data relating to children declared legally free for adoption and cases pending for decision to district magistrates, in formats provided in adoption regulations and also to the respective state adoption resource agencies with the assistance of district child protection units.

Under the draft amendments, functions of the court, including procedure for obtaining adoption orders, have been transferred to district magistrates, and courts will no longer be involved in the process.

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According to the proposed rules, where the child has remained with a foster family for a minimum of five years, other than in pre-adoption foster care, the foster family may now apply for adoption and will be given preference to adopt the child after she/he is declared legally free for adoption, and after registering in the Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System under procedures laid down in adoption regulations. The rules say that if any relaxation in procedure to declare the child legally free for adoption is required, the child welfare committee shall obtain the permission of the state agency. Childcare institutions or specialised adoption agencies housing children who have been declared legally free for adoption are to submit reports to the district magistrate concerned every month about the number of children declared legally free for adoption, as also their status.

The rules say that the district magistrate will review the report submitted by the child care institution and specialised adoption agency and shall take measures to expedite the process of adoption of children declared legally free for adoption. Boards set up in districts to look after child welfare, in particular in cases of children in conflict with the law, are to submit a six-monthly situational analysis report to the district magistrate concerned regarding the types of crime committed by children in the district. Under the draft rules, the district magistrates will also be required to draw up sponsorship plans for the

district to generate resources through public and private contributions. They are to ensure scholarships for higher education, loans for education or starting small businesses for children leaving child care institutions and make sure that all the children in need of care and protection of children in conflict with the law are admitted in school for age-appropriate education.

The Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, a new statutory Act entitled as Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Act, 2000, which was passed and came into force on April 1, 2001, replaced the previous one (conspicuously Juvenile Justice Act 1986). Thereafter another amendment Act, the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, has replaced the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. The Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, was enacted by the Parliament on May 07, 2015, in the Lok Sabha and on December 22, 2015, in the Rajya Sabha.

Under the provisions of the 2015 law, a single or divorced person/citizen can also adopt a child, although a single man cannot adopt a girl child. The present Act is potentially being modified by the Parliament to protect juveniles against cruelty. As not a single Act has adequate laws so far to protect juveniles against cruelty, though many protective measures have been included.

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After the Delhi gangrape case (Mukesh vs State (NCT of Delhi), many amendments were made in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

The Juvenile Justice Act has divided the world crime into three diverse categories: (1) petty offences; (2) serious offences; and (3) heinous offences. The changes introduced by the new Amendment Bill are as follows:

Heinous Offences: Heinous offences are those wrongdoings that recommend the minimum punishment of seven years or more under Section 2(33) of the Indian Penal Code.

Serious Offences: Serious offences incorporate offences for which detainment of a minimum of three years and not surpassing seven years are endorsed under Section 2(54) of the Indian Penal Code. This eliminates uncertainty and has been brought to guarantee that the juvenile will not get that far from the adult justice system. Presently, the Juvenile Justice Board will ask as indicated by the offences submitted by the juvenile to decide if the juvenile be attempted as a minor or a grown-up.

Adoption: The adoption orders usually issued by the courts establish that the child belongs to the adoptive parents but now after the amendment in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2021, the district magistrates and the deputy district magistrates have the power to sanction the adoption mechanism.

Appeal: If a party is aggrieved by the adoption order, the party can approach the divisional official to have a passage of that section removed to settle the complaints; however the appeal needs to be made under 30 days after the district magistrate and additional district magistrate pass the request.

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Designated courts: Assigned courts are the exceptional court uniquely set up for the reason to attempt every one of the offences submitted by the juveniles and named as children’s court.

Child Welfare Committee: The Bill referenced that no individual will be designated as an individual by the Committee except if they have been effectively engaged with any record of human rights or child rights has been indicted for an offence, including moral turpitude has been eliminated or excused from administrations of the focal government or any state government or any administration undertaking and if a part of the administration of a child care institution.

The new Bill arranges segregated offences to protect children from the adult justice framework. It likewise gives more powers to the district magistrates. The district magistrates need to screen and work for the juvenile justice board for child care institutions and the district juvenile care boards. The new Bill is by all accounts progressive, the key changes brought to the juvenile laws reinforce the proper care of children, including ones who require assurance under the laws and to individuals who struggle with the laws. It likewise streamlines the adoption system of the juvenile.

—By Adarsh Patel and India Legal News Service

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