JUVENILE JUSTICE HOMES: JUSTICE OR INJUSTICE TO THE JUVENILES
This Article was shortlisted as the top entries at Educoncours 1st National Journalism Competition
Author: D Venkata Sai Yasaschandra
College: National Law University Odisha
The NDA government towards reforming juvenile justice passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) swapping the existing Indian Juvenile Delinquency Law, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. The purpose of the Act is that juveniles in the age group of 16–18, involved in Heinous Offences, can be tried as adults.[i] This Act classifies children into two categories- those in the need of care and protection and those in divergences with the law. The Bill lays emphasis on setting up of Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees in every district of the country. Both of them must have at least one woman member each, the decision to try a juvenile 16 years or older as an adult will be taken by the Juvenile Justice Board, which will have a judicial magistrate and two social workers as members. If the Board decides against it, the juvenile will be sent for rehabilitation. The Child Welfare Committees will look at institutional care for children in their respective districts. Each committee will have a chairperson and four other members, all specialists in matters relating to children.[ii] India being a signatory to the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child is expected to accede to a set of standards for protecting the best interests of all children under the age of 18.
Findings reveal that more than half of the child population of India has, on at least one occasion, faced a case of sex abuse, which regrettably is more prevalent in the case of girls. In most of these cases the delinquents were known to the sufferer and in a situation like this, the Act aggravates the existing peril as the children are now more prone to the danger than ever. What the present system did not check are the existing unauthorized child care homes which contribute to at least a quarter of the homes. This effectively means that the child abuse in most of the cases go unnoticed, at least as long as it is not being reported. To add to the problem, there is no centralized data to keep a check on the number of children housed in various care homes and hence making human trafficking a walk in a park. The question, in fact, is not about child abuse alone, but also the inhumane conditions of care homes in which these kids are forced to live in. It is out of the surprise to hear cases, where children are being sold, for such porous, is our system. Also, the fact that the government allows functioning of such institutions even after receiving complaints of child abuse and constant mismanagement of authority has raised the eyebrows of many. The present situation is that the law cannot come into force unless the institution is registered under the Act. This means that there is enough room for players involved to escape the prosecution. More than 700 juvenile justice homes in India receive grants from the Union government many of which exist on paper. What’s unfortunate is this that even after 70 years of independence the contemporary laws are still not effective, to an extent that it toady leaves more room for the offenders to escape than it ever did.
ANY REMEDIAL SYSTEM IN PLACE?
The principal reason why sexual violence continues in child care institutions for years is the lack of machinery through which residents can bring cases to the notice of an appropriate statutory authority.[iii] The Rules notified under the Act mandate that inspection committees should visit and supervise the conditions in the institutions and watch out for incidents of violation of child rights, amongst many other things, at least once every three months. According to the law, childcare institutes are also required to set up children's committees in all institutions. It would be folly to believe that numerous such Child Welfare Committees (CWCs), that are quasi-judicial bodies assigned the job of looking after the institutions are living up to the expectations. With no proper authority and responsibility relationship between the superior and the subordinate, the fate of the juveniles is left at the mercy of the oppressors. It is important to have a process to ensure that complainants have an access to a person outside as, in a majority of the cases; the perpetrator is someone from within the institute. A review of around 10 cases of severe sexual abuse in juvenile justice homes by the Asian Centre for Human Rights found that in the case of privately- run juvenile justice homes and those run by NGOs, perpetrators predominantly include managers, directors, owners, founders and their relatives, friends and staff members. On lines of social audit, it may be essential to tap the services of philanthropists for enhancing the protection of children living in care homes.
DO WE NEED THEM?
With all said and done, the situation of those juveniles being worse than ever, the question is ‘do we need such systems in place which are hopeless and the least effective?’ That should be a question that a reasonable man needn’t answer. From a larger perspective if it is not them then what? If the Juvenile Justice Homes are not doing justice for the children what else would. Should the government introduce new laws that ban unregistered child care homes? Or should the problem be dealt with at the root cause, i.e., from where a child is born but the mother abandons the child? Should we increase the vigilance by force in the already existing juvenile homes?
These questions keep on arising until the problem is annihilated.
IF NOT JUVENILE JUSTICE HOMES THEN WHAT?
Ensuring that those not involved in the Juvenile Justice Homes, are kept out of the system and are not involved in any kind of abuse or trafficking will, though not eradicate the problem, at least mitigate the problem to the extent of those children who are not involved, hence, reducing the domain in which the government should increase its focus on. Creating opportunities for the juveniles and bringing them into limelight will ensure that the juveniles remain motivated and show enthusiasm to be active in public activities.[iv] This helps them in realizing their potential which can be harnessed to produce the country’s greatest minds. This will ensure that the society is set in motion a chain of events which will have a cascading effect. In other words, these lessons will teach 100s more and thus helping the society in numerous ways. Ensuring job opportunities or vocational training opportunities will keep the teens engaged thus ensuring minimal cases of antisocial activities. Individualizing services to meet the needs of juveniles and build on the strengths of each unique young person will help them realize their own potential and thus brings in happiness. Intentionally focusing on reducing racial and ethnic disparity in policy and practice will help the society kill the superstitions that may prevent them to do what they want to. Helping the youth in accessing opportunities to give back to the society so that they also can be contributors to their community and not just receivers of service thus, resulting in a restored sense of belongingness. The government may enact legislations that ban running of child homes without a proper license and bring stricter regulations in the working of state police. These alternatives may not be the best of all, but at least they are better than deceiving legislations that don’t stand a chance in the society of the present day.
Thus, it seems that the Act in question may not serve the purpose for which it was introduced. Time has come when legislations have to be made keeping in mind the present circumstances, social factors, and the country’s progress. The intellects should sit back and understand the long-term implications of such legislations, which not only gives offenders more room for escaping but also aggravates the existing menace, before proposing such legislations. We too play a huge role in shaping our society, teaching younger generations the nuance between the right and the wrong, so that the future would be better. Also, let the legislations be as they may, bringing stricter penal laws for monotonous offenders and exemplary punishments would teach the society the aftermath of the commission of the offenses in the question. With all said and done it is obvious now that juveniles are still victims of an injustice system and have a long road ahead.
[ii] Supra, note 1.
[iii] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story- eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html
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