THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN INDIA
Before India’s independence, a few states had enacted legislation applicable to children. Three states—Madras (now Chennai), Bengal, and Bombay (now Mumbai)—passed the children’s acts in the form of Madras Children’s Act (1920), Bengal Children’s Act (1922), and Bombay Children’s Act (1924). These acts lacked uniformity regarding court jurisdiction, procedure, or sanctioning of juveniles. After India’s independence in 1947, the central government enacted the Children’s Act (1960) for the protection and care of children in union territories that were directly under the central government rule. By 1980, many states had enacted juvenile laws, yet procedures and treatment of juveniles varied from state to state. Although national-level discussions for uniformity in juvenile legislation was occurring, a public-interest suit filed in the Supreme Court of India by a social worker and freelance journalist, Sheela Barse, changed the face of juvenile justice in India. In Sheela Barse v. Union of India (1986), the petitioner challenged the detention of 1400 physically and mentally challenged children as well as children who were abandoned or destitute in adult jails. The Court noted delays in prosecution and directed state governments to take necessary steps to set up a sufficient number of courts and trained judges to expedite the process. The Court further ordered the establishment of necessary remand and observation homes (i.e., pretrial detention centers for those accused of committing a crime) and created a uniform application of laws by enacting a national legislation (Kumari 2004).
In 1986, the Juvenile Justice Bill was introduced in Parliament in conformity with “the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, an international obligation that India had agreed to abide by” (Kethineni and Braithwaite 2014: 309). The same year, the Juvenile Justice Act
(JJA) was passed for the care, protection, treatment, development, and rehabilitation of neglected and dependent children as well as those accused of committing delinquent acts. Child-friendly terminology, similar to the 1960 Children’s Act, was introduced. The JJA also established separate structures, procedures, and institutions to handle neglected and dependent children as one group and delinquents as another. Juvenile courts were set up for those accused of committing crimes, and welfare boards have been established to deal with neglected and dependent children (Kethineni and Klosky 2000).