Navigating Juvenile Justice: Evolution Over the Years

Session Report
Shreya Mann

LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship is an Online National Summer School Program, a Two-Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness and Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, from June-August 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Navigating Juvenile Justice: Evolution Over the Years” was held by Professor Sharmila Gruge, Faculty at JC College of Law.

She commenced the discussion on the unresolved dilemma of anticipatory Bill to juveniles under the Juvenile Justice Act.

Historical Background

The Juvenile Justice Act has been enacted after going through several phases of law dating back to the British era in the 1850s. The Apprentice Act was the first law which was enacted in furtherance of the protection of children followed by the Reformatory School in the provinces of Madras, Bengal and Bombay. Following this was the Children Act, which included not only children with Alish offences but also included various provisions for children in need of care. The same was continued and further enhanced with better amendments for children in 1986 with the Juvenile Justice Act.

This was a step taken by the Indian Parliament after ratifying the child convention at the International Forum. With the International Forum, efforts were also being made towards the protection of children in care need as well as children in conflict with the law. Since this nomenclature of ‘juvenile’ is considered traumatizing in some way, it was later changed to ‘Children in Conflict with Law’. Several other powerful amendments were made in 2000, 2015 and then 2021, with regard to adoption and other provisions for children.

Objectives of the Act

The Juvenile Justice Act is a law provided for children who are either in conflict with the law or are in need of care and protection. The primary objective of the law is to ensure the well-being and rehabilitation of these children. The second objective is to ensure the best interest of the child. So whether it is the disposal of the matters with juveniles or whether it is the welfare of the child, the focus is accentuated on the difference between the traditional criminal justice system and the justice system to be followed for the children.

The law aims at welfare and restorative justice. The Act includes multiple principles such as the principle of innocence, principle of dignity, the principle of participation, the principle of best interest, the principle of responsibility, safety and protecting natural Justice of the children.

Reasons for Juvenile Delinquency

Professor Ghuge pointed out several reasons for the sudden upsurge in juvenile cases over the past few years. Some of these include biological changes; puberty, immaturity and mental incapability coupled with a desire to indulge and give in to temptations. Urbanization and migration such as housing issues and residing in slums, coming in contact with hard criminals, a lack of family support or financial crunch, and family disintegration. The impact of mass media, poverty, and illiteracy are some of the other contributory factors.

Professor also discussed the infamous Nirbhaya Gang Rape Case of the national capital, after the occurrence of which, the law was amended to any child between the age of 16 to 18 to be punished on power with an adult for committing a heinous offence. She also discussed, in brief, the absence of Anticipatory Bail in the JJ Act, which allows individuals to seek pre-arrest bail. 

Professor Ghuge concluded the session by highlighting the significance of having clarity from The Honorable Apex Court or with the Parliament. She laid emphasis on the need to adopt a liberal and constructive approach while interpreting the provisions of any Act, and the importance of placing reliance on ordinary legislation to fully achieve the objectives of such special legislation. It is imperative for a juvenile to have the recourse available to resort to section 438 of Cr. PC. Clarifying this position of law, is the need of the hour

Acknowledgement: Shreya Mann is a research intern at IMPRI.

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