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Juvenile Delinquency: A Social Problem

By Trisha Chakraborty


“Juvenile crime is not naturally born in the boy but is largely due either to the spirit of adventure that is in him, to his stupidity, or to his lack of discipline, according to the nature of the individual.”- Robert Baden-Powell.[1]


Juvenile crime is a significant issue in crime today, affecting children and youth alike. Historically, juveniles faced similar punishments as adult criminals, including public shaming, incarceration, and execution by hanging. Reformers like Jane Addams of Chicago worked to develop a new justice system to protect abused children and reform trouble-making youth. Public perceptions of juvenile crime are often shaped by misconceptions and unwarranted fears, with status offenses like alcohol consumption and truancy being more common. Non-status offenses are less common.


Juvenile delinquency in India is a significant issue, influenced by various social factors such as broken homes, poverty, bad company, and mental instability. Children from poor families often lack parental love and control, making them more vulnerable to anti-societal influence. Poverty, often due to long-term work, leaves children uncared for, leading to gangsters and a desire for money. Bad company, such as peer groups, neighbors, and companions, can also influence a child's behavior, potentially leading to a change in attitude and an increased likelihood of delinquency. Mental instability is another significant factor in juvenile delinquency, as many are mentally handicapped and unable to distinguish between right and wrong. These children are often used by gangsters for criminal purposes. Emotional problems, such as jealousy and inferiority, are common among delinquent children, as they feel societal rejection and denied basic rights, leading to a sense of inferiority and a higher likelihood of delinquency.


There are serious social and legal ramifications for young people in India who commit juvenile crimes. Depending on how serious the infraction was, there may be fines or even jail time as punishment. The psychological fallout from illegal activity can cause low self-esteem, guilt, and humiliation, all of which might hinder a young person's capacity to live a productive life. Juvenile criminality can also stigmatize young people and harm a family's reputation.

 

The Juvenile Justice Act of 1986 in India was replaced due to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which aimed to safeguard juvenile offenders' rights. The Act aimed to offer care, protection, treatment, and rehabilitation for neglected juvenile delinquents, replacing the Children Act of 1960. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, of 2000, was implemented to establish a consistent framework for juvenile justice in India, detailing necessary machinery and infrastructure for juvenile offenders' care, protection, treatment, and rehabilitation. It also included essential provisions for the proper and just administration of criminal justice in cases involving serious crimes committed by juvenile offenders.

The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, was established in India to safeguard children, but its enforcement mechanisms have been criticized for insufficient provisions. The "Delhi Gang Rape Case" highlighted the insufficient legal provisions of the original Act, leading to the replacement of it by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act in 2015. The new legislation aims to establish a more robust and efficient justice system that integrates deterrent and rehabilitative strategies. It defines a child as an individual below 18 years of age and distinguishes between "Child in Need of Care and Protection" and "Child in Conflict with Law." The Act also allows juveniles aged between 16 and 18 to be treated as adults after a thorough assessment of their mental capacity. It also covers adoption issues and acknowledges the rights of adopted children. The primary objectives of the Act are to consolidate laws pertaining to children in conflict with the law and those in need of care and protection, offering appropriate care, protection, development, treatment, and social integration.

India has established a Juvenile Justice System to address the rights and protection of juvenile offenders. The system is based on three key assumptions: guiding and correcting young offenders through various means, allowing them to reform and reintegrate into society, and focusing on non-penal treatment through community-based social control agencies. The Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 aims to address juvenile delinquency, but the new legislation adopts a more progressive approach, adopting the philosophy of parens patriae, emphasizing institutionalized care and protection. The Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Amendment Bill 2021, passed by both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, aims to provide informal hearings and emphasize the reformation and socialization of young individuals. The new amendment bill will come into force once the President's assent is received.

 

Certain Landmark judgments:


●      Sheela Barse & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors. was a Supreme Court case aimed at promoting the liberation of minors from incarceration. The petitioners requested comprehensive data on juvenile courts, facilities, and educational institutions. The Supreme Court instructed the State Legal Aid & Advice Board to dispatch attorneys to each prison weekly to offer legal aid to children under 16 years. State Governments were mandated to report on children's homes, remand homes, and observation homes for minors, along with the population of detainees in each. The states were also required to diligently enforce the Children's Act and submit affidavits justifying any failure to implement these Acts. District and Sessions Judges were instructed to conduct regular visits to District Jails and give special attention to juvenile inmates. The Supreme Court provided specific guidelines concerning juveniles, including investigation and trial completion within 3 months of filing a FIR.


●      The Supreme Court has ruled that individuals under 18 at the time of an offense, even before the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, can be classified as juveniles. This decision was made in the case of Hari Ram v. State of Rajasthan & Anr., where the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986 stipulated that male children could be considered juveniles until the age of 16. The court clarified that the claim of juvenility was irrelevant if the accused turned 18.


●      In the case of Jitendra Singh @ Babboo Singh & Anr. v. State of U.P., the court ruled that asserting minority status at the time of an offense must be done promptly before the Trial Court or High Court. The Supreme Court is a welfare-oriented statute, and technicalities like delayed juvenility claims do not preclude individuals from seeking recourse under the Juvenile Justice Act.


●      The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and 2015, were primarily enforced in the case of Sampurna Behura v. Union of India & Ors. The judiciary emphasized the importance of children as the future of the nation and urged the State Governments to ensure the effective execution of the JJ Act, 2015. The Central and State Governments were required to guarantee the complete occupancy of positions in the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) to facilitate efficient operation. State-Level Child Protection Societies and District Level Child Protection Units were also urged to seek support from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and civil society to ensure proper enforcement of the JJ Act. Regular sessions of JJBs and CWCs were recommended to prevent inquiry backlogs and ensure the well-being of children in need of care and protection. The National & State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights were urged to conduct research on various societal matters, enabling the State Government to take corrective measures on identified issues. Special Juvenile Police Units were established to enhance law enforcement's response to incidents involving offenses against or by children. National & State Police Academies were advised to incorporate child rights-related subjects into their educational programs. State Governments were advised to mandate the registration of all Child Care Institutions (CCIs) to tackle the challenges of missing children and trafficking effectively.


●      The Supreme Court in Abuzar Hossain @ Gulam Hossain v. State of West Bengal ruled that the assertion of juvenility remains admissible post the final disposal of a case. The individual asserting the claim of juvenility must establish a prima facie case, and the display of documents specified in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007, serves as adequate evidence to trigger an investigation. Courts are advised against an overly stringent approach when confronted with a plea of juvenility, and unwarranted claims should be dismissed.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, aims to enhance the human capital of youth by providing high-quality education and training. It focuses on the well-being, safety, and protection of juvenile delinquents, ensuring their progress, rehabilitation, correction, and reintegration. The Indian government has implemented initiatives like Atmanirbhar Bharat, Ujjawala, and the National Youth Policy 2021 to empower youth and combat child trafficking. However, strict enforcement is needed to reduce offenses against children.

 

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