The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has approved the introduction of Amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2014. The amendments to the draft Bill strike a fine balance between the demands of the stakeholders asking for continued protection of rights of juveniles and the popular demand of citizens in the light of increasing incidence of heinous crimes by young boys. The amended version of the Bill is the result of an elaborate consultative process undertaken by the Ministry of Women and Child Development which included regional/ national consultations as well as consultations with state governments. The draft Bill was placed on the website for views of the public. The Ministry had received an unprecedented number of inputs/suggestions which have been duly taken into account while drafting the Bill.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development had introduced the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2014 in the Lok Sabha on 12th August 2014. This draft Bill sought to make more robust, effective and responsive the legislative framework for children in need of care and protection as well as children in conflict with law. Its provisions responded to the perceptions, articulated by a wide cross-section of society for the need to have an effective and strengthened system of administration of juvenile justice, care and protection.

The proposed legislation, which would replace the existing Juvenile Justice Act 2000, clearly defined and classified offences as petty, serious and heinous, and defined differentiated processes for each category. Keeping in view the increasing number of serious offences being committed by persons in the age group of 16-18 years and recognizing the rights of the victims as being equally important as the rights of juveniles, special provisions were proposed to tackle heinous offences committed by individuals in this age group.

The new proposed Act provides that in case a heinous crime has been committed by a person in the age group of 16-18 years it will be examined by the Juvenile Justice Board to assess if the crime was committed as a ‘child’ or as an ‘adult’. Since this assessment will take place by the Board which will have psychologists and social experts, it will ensure that the rights of the juvenile are duly protected if he has committed the crime as a child. The trial of the case will accordingly take place as a juvenile or as an adult on the basis of this assessment. As per the Ministry of Women and Child Development, this unique instrument of a two-stage assessment/ trial brings about a balance that is sensitive to the rights of the child, protective of his legitimate interests and yet conscious of the need to deter crimes, especially brutal crimes against women. The proposed amendment further reinforces these principles through introduction of a new provision that disallows the protection from disqualification in cases where a juvenile is tried and convicted under the adult system.

The new legislation proposed to streamline adoption procedures for orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children. It establishes a statutory status for the Child Adoption Resources Authority (CARA). The legislation further proposed several rehabilitation and social integration measures for institutional and non-institutional children. It also provided for sponsorship and foster care as completely new measures. It provided for mandatory registration of all institutions engaged in providing child care. New offences including illegal adoption, corporal punishment in child care institutions, the use of children by militant groups, and offences against disabled children were also incorporated in the proposed legislation.

The Bill was referred to the Department related Parliamentary Standing Committee. In their report of 25th February 2015, the Committee made several recommendations to further strengthen the Bill. Most of the recommendations of the Committee have been accepted. Accordingly, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has proposed to undertake Amendment to the said Bill on the basis of the recommendations of the Committee.

The major amendments include removal of Clause 7 that relates to trial of a person above the age of 21 years as an adult for committing any serious or heinous offence when the person was between the ages of 16-18 years; enhancing the period of preliminary inquiry by the Juvenile Justice Board in case of heinous offences committed by children in the age group of 16-18 years; increasing the reconsideration period for surrender of children by parents or guardians; enhancing the period for inter-country adoption in case the child is not given for domestic adoption; assigning the role of designated authority to monitor the implementation of the Bill to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights; and making the Central and State Governments responsible for spreading awareness on the provisions of the Bill.

On the basis of the approval of the Cabinet, an amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2014 will be introduced in the current session of Parliament. The new legislation, when enacted, will provide a robust mechanism not only to dealing with offences by Juveniles but establish a strong framework to provide care and protection to children and streamline the process of adoption.

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