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DISCUSSION

Compared to many Western countries, juvenile justice reforms in India have been slow. However, significant strides have been made in enacting various child- friendly laws. Most importantly, the JJA (1986) and JJCPA (2000) have developed child-friendly policies, judicial infrastructure, and institutions to house children in need of care and protection as well as juveniles in conflict with the law. In 2000, the JJA was replaced with the JJCPA due to criticisms that the JJA lacked many of the provisions enumerated in the CRC. Also, the JJA failed to incorporate the standard definition of “juvenile” (boys under age 16; girls under 18 years old) and did not make procedural rights (e.g., appellate review of juveniles placed in observation homes and right to an attorney in neglected cases) available (Van Bueren 1999).

Both the JJA and the JJCPA represent a modified justice model; they contain elements of welfare and justice principles (Chakraborty, n.d.). Also, any violations of the provisions of the CRC can be invoked before the courts or entities with judicial powers (Srivastava 2004). More important, children’s activists, nongovernmental organizations, and the Indian Supreme Court have played significant roles in upholding children’s rights. The JJCPA brought children who faced social and economic deprivation within its protective jurisdiction (Kumari 2004). Despite these developments, access to justice for many poor children remains problematic. The National Human Rights Commission in India documented various forms of violations of child rights, including inadequate enforcement of child labor laws, child trafficking, and various forms of violence against children (National Human Rights Commission 2006). Although some states have successfully implemented laws protecting the rights of children, others have either ignored children or do not have the infrastructure, funds, or the necessary training.

Changing public opinion also shapes the future of the juvenile justice system. For example, a case in 2012 prompted public outcry over the lenient treatment of juveniles who commit heinous crimes. The involvement of a 17-year-old juvenile in the brutal rape of a 23-year-old college student, Jyoti Singh, in New Delhi turned public opinion against the JJCPA (2000). The young woman was brutally gang-raped and left to die by six men, including the 17-year-old adolescent. The 17-year-old was tried as a juvenile and received a three-year sentence, which was to be served in the special home. Following this incident, a new bill—the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill (2014)—was introduced in the Parliament which lowered the age of juveniles who can be tried as adults from 18 to 16 years if charged with heinous crimes such as murder, rape, and dacoity. The Bill also stipulates that 16-18-year-olds can be tried as adults for committing serious offenses if they are apprehended after they reach the age of 21 years.

Opponents of this bill argue that such a law violates the CRC’s prohibition of trying a juvenile under the age of 18 as an adult. Further, treating juveniles who commit serious crimes as adults based on the date of apprehension violates Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 21 (requiring fair and reasonable procedures) of the Indian Constitution (PRS Legislative Research 2015). They further argue “that the 16-18 years is a tender and critical age requiring greater protection” (p. 2). Proponents of this bill, however, argue that there are several safeguards in place, such as allowing the Board to decide whether a juvenile over 16 years should be tried as an adult. If the court convicts the juvenile, the order must contain a rehabilitation plan. Once the juvenile is found to be in conflict with the law, he or she will stay in the special home until the age of 21, at which point he or she will be transferred to an adult jail. The bill was passed into law [the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015] and will be enforceable starting from January 15, 2016. Time will tell if the punitive nature of this legislation will affect how the public, police, and the judiciary perceive juveniles.

 
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