Terra Nullius | The Amendment to the JJ Act

There is still a long way to go for holistic reforms within the Juvenile Justice setup.

The Cabinet recently cleared the Amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of children) Act 2000. This Act is the primary act for all cases of Children in Need of Care and Protection and Children in Conflict with the Law. While calls for the amendment to this Act had been making rounds for years, it was after the 2012 Delhi Rape case that it gained traction. One of the prime accused in the case, a minor, was eventually sentenced with the most severe punishment possible under the JJ Act. The Act stipulated that no juvenile could be sentenced to life imprisonment, and the harshest punishment that could be handed out was sending the juvenile to a reformation home for three years. This sentence raised public outrage, and irrational calls for a harsher sentence for the adolescent crimnal, who had already recieved a legally fair sentence, well within the system.

The hue and cry around this sentence was misplaced, as the problem was not with the judgment, but with the Act which ignored the realities of contemporary India, and did not pay attention to each case at an individual basis. It was then that the need to amend the law accordingly, and discussions on it gained momentum. I have, in the past, written on this topic and on the need for this amendment. One cannot ignore the complexity Af this amendment or this population group. However, three reforms have to be made, to overhaul and correct the juvenile justice setup in India.

First, According to the NCBR data (from 2011), 64 percent of all juvenile criminals fall under the category of 16 – 18. While this population is not an adult population, it cannot be clubbed with 8 year olds. There is a need for a special category for ‘adolescents’, between the ages of 16–18, to be dealt with at a case-by-case basis. The cognitive and the emotional capacity of adolescents should be taken into account. The circumstances and background, the nuances of the crime – including intention and outcome – should also be analytically assessed. The sentence should consider the reformation and rehabilitation of each adolescent. This categorisation would allow for empirical and sound judgments at a case-by-case basis, and not in silos (or popular public demand/outrage). The Amendment that was passed, takes this point into account.

Second, to reform the Juvenile Justice system and child protection setup, it is important to keep in mind the pragmaticism and the sensitivity needed to handle this population. This includes serious reformation and restrcuturing of the juvenile homes, the Special Juvenile Police Unit (The unit of the police that manages cases of children), a rehaul of budget allocations, and relook at the implementation of the key child protection policy – the Integrated Child Protection Scheme. There is also a serious need for experts, trained professionals and legal aids within this sector.

The third has been for assessing all cases with respect to children with empiricism, rather than heady emotion. Each judgement should keep in mind that this adolescent population is the future citizenry, and there is a need for its reformation, rehabilitation, and when needed, protection, along with a fair trial and sound judgements.

The Amendment is a welcome move. However, there is still a long way to go for holistic reforms within the juvenile justice setup. The practice of the law will need to match the theory. Below are some of the pieces on different aspects of juvenile justice and child protection that I had written and blogged on, in the past.

No exceptions please
(On reforming the entire juvenile justice system)

Child’s play
(On the weak implementation of laws and policies governing child protection setup across India)

Fixing the whole
(On the problems of juvenile policing and reforming the Special Juvenile Police Unit)

Child before the Law
(Who is a child in the Indian context?)

Reforming the juvenile homes first
(On the dire need to reform the juvenile homes across the country)

Child protection in India
(Gaps in the rescue, keep and rehabilitation of minors in India)

What else needs to be done?
(On the action items in reforming juvenile justice and child protection policies in India)

Strong policy, meagre spending
(On the poor public spending on child protection policies)