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Courts and Juveniles Under the JJCPA

A juvenile in conflict with law may be brought before any member of the JJB when the Board is not in session, provided at least two members, including the principal magistrate, are present at the final disposition of the case. Juveniles are entitled to procedural rights (e.g., bail), irrespective of the nature of the offense, and fair trials. If release on bail is likely to expose the juvenile to criminal elements or defeat the purpose of justice, the juvenile must be brought to the observation home or place of safety during the inquiry phase. Other rights include representation by an attorney of their choice, and, if the juvenile cannot afford one, access to free legal aid service is available. Also, information regarding juvenile arrest has to be sent to parents directing them to be present before the JJB. A probation officer compiles the social history information and assists the Board in conducting an inquiry. The investigation must be completed within 4 months unless exceptional circumstances warrant an extension, in which case reasons have to be documented.

According to the 2015 JJCPA, “a child in conflict with laws” is any child who is alleged or has committed an offense and who has not reached the age of 18 years at the time of the offense (The Gazette of India 2016). The Act expands the definition of “a child in need to care and protection.” It includes children who are homeless, destitute, abused, victimized, neglected, runaways, mentally or physically challenged, and those suffering from terminal or incurable diseases and no one to take care of them (The Gazette of India 2016). The Act classifies offense into “petty offenses” (maximum imprisonment is up to 3 years), “serious offenses” (incarceration from 3 to 7 years), and “heinous offenses” (incarceration 7 or more years). When a child in conflict with the law is brought before the Board, the Board conducts the preliminary inquiry. If it is a petty offense, the Board uses summary procedures. If a child under the age of 18 years commits a serious offense or a child under the age of 16 years commits a heinous crime, the Board uses the summons proceedings where the Board issues summons for the accused to attend. For a child above the age of 16 years and commits a heinous crime, the Board has the option to transfer the case to be tried as an adult in the Children’s Court, which has the jurisdiction over such cases.

With a few exceptions, any aggrieved party may appeal the orders passed by the CWC or the Board to the Children’s Court; however, if the appeal is against the order of the Board involving a heinous offense, it can be filed with the Court of Session. An order of the Children’s Court involving a heinous case may be appealed to the High Court. The High Court may order the CWC or the Board to amend the order.

Concerning a “child in need of care and protection,” the state government may appoint a Child Welfare Committee (CWC). The Committee is made up of a chairperson and four members, of which at least one member shall be a woman and another must be an expert on child welfare. Both public and private agencies (e.g., law enforcement, social services, or any registered volunteer organizations) may bring a child before the Committee. A child by him- or herself may appear before the Committee. Like the JJB, the CWC must complete the inquiry within 4 months unless special circumstances require an extension. Upon completion of the investigation, if the Committee finds that the child has no family or means of support, they refer the child to the children’s home or shelter facility until proper rehabilitation is available or the child reaches the age of majority (i.e., 18 years).

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