ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Juvenile Justice : A Beginning

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Despite the acrimonious debates on farmers' plight and the prime minister's Ayodhya statement, the recently concluded winter session of parliament did manage to pass an important piece of legislation – the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2000. The bill was designed as an improvement on the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 to make it "more child-friendly and ensure the best interest of the child". The bill had been in the offing for some time, ever since India became one of the earliest signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990 and it was recognised that major gaps and deficiencies in the 1986 Act needed to be plugged. The new act seeks to lay down a differential approach for children in conflict with law and those in need of care and protection, who had been clubbed together in the 1986 Act. It also proposes to provide various alternatives for rehabilitation and 'social reintegration' such as adoption, foster care, sponsorship and aftercare of abandoned, destitute, neglected and delinquent children.

Despite its claims, the new bill has its critics, most notably the experts who were part of the drafting committee. The experts say the bill was prepared in haste and the committee was not allowed a glimpse of the final draft. Thus it has in some places retained the confusions prevalent in the earlier act. The new act does not redefine the term 'juvenile' to remove the ambiguities in regard to the applicability of the legislation in criminal trials. There has been much debate, even at the highest levels of the judiciary, as to who constitutes a juvenile. Is an offender to be judged a juvenile when proceedings are launched against him or her or when the alleged offence was committed? Another aspect that has attracted criticism is Article 32(1)(ii) of the bill that says, "Any child in need of care or protection may be produced in the child welfare committee immediately by any police officer or special juvenile police unit or the designated police officers". This, according to experts, is likely to leave open possibilities of abuse and injustice and so it is felt that a doctor or social worker could be involved in such situations instead of police personnel.

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