Juvenile Justice System in India

This article was written by Varsha Jhavar, a student of  Hidayatullah National Law University.

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 
-Nelson Mandela

India has the world’s largest child population, therefore the above quote by Nelson Mandela is all the more relevant and important in our context. Children are the future of any nation, the paragons of hope, and the harbingers of change. The children of today will be adults of tomorrow. They are an asset for the country. They need to be nourished physically, psychologically and mentally, by providing them with a healthy socio-cultural environment.

No one is a born criminal. Circumstances make him so. One of the biggest problems the country is facing today is the juvenile crimes. The word juvenile originates from the Latin word ‘Juvenis’ meaning ‘young’. Juvenile is a person below the age of majority, according to the law to which he is subject . In India the age of majority is 18 years of age, hence, juvenile delinquent in India can be defined as a person who is below 18 years of age and is involved in the commission of a felony.

There can be various reasons due to which these juveniles agitate the settled societal norms and break legal rules. Sometimes, due to certain circumstances like poverty, repeated exposure to violence, drugs, unstable family life and family violence, delinquent peer groups, and media violence children lose their innocence and end up committing crimes.

All sorts of crime from petty thievery, snatching to serious crimes like rape and murder are being committed on a daily basis in the country and are steadily increasing. A trend is palpable, juveniles in the age group of 16 to 18 years are noticeably more involved in grave crimes. As per National Crime Record Bureau (year 2011) – 64% of crimes have been committed by children in this age group. Many heinous crimes are committed between the age of 16 and 18. This age is highly volatile and unstable and therefore subject of various debates in enactment of amendments and bills in respect to Juvenile Justice.

Evolution of Juvenile Laws:

International Regime: The treatment for children is referred to as far back as the code of Hammurabi in 1790 BC. Internationally, the juvenile justice system culminated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989, which was ratified by India in 1992. It defined “children” as those less than 18 years.

Evolution in India: Apprentices Act, 1850 is chronologically the first in a series of legislations dealing with juvenile delinquency in India. It provided for children committing petty offences, below 15 years of age, to be trained in trade and industry. Then the Reformatory Schools Act, 1897 followed, which declared that delinquents sentenced to imprisonment will be sent to reformatory schools, a paradigm shift from penal provisions .

After India became independent, the Children Act, 1960 was enacted. The law was adopted in the Union Territories, but not in all of the states and this subsequently led to different law being applied in different parts of the nation. To solve these problems and with the purpose of providing care, protection, development and rehabilitation of neglected or delinquent juveniles, the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 was enacted. The act brought about a uniform system throughout the country. The introduction of UN Convention on Rights of the Child and the Beijing rules culminated in some important changes being brought in the concept and approach towards the problem of juvenile justice in the world in general and in India in particular through the enactment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and resulting in repealing of JJA Act, 1986. The age bar of juvenile in conflict with law which had previously been 16 years for boy and 18 years for a girl had been raised to 18 years of age for both.

Post-Independence, the Constitution has vastly contributed to the development of the field of juvenile justice.

The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 is the primary framework for juvenile justice in India . It states that juvenile offenders may be kept in ‘Observation home’, and those children who need attention and care while proceedings are going on, need to be kept in a ‘Children Home’. The maximum period a juvenile can be detained for is 3 years, irrespective of the gravity of offence committed by him and he will be remanded to ‘Special Home’. The raison d’etre is that there is still a chance that the child may change his ways due to his/her tender age and lack of maturity. The aim is to rehabilitate the child into the mainstream society and bring normalcy into his life. The 2000 Act was facing implementation issues and procedural delays with regard to adoption, etc.

The Government of India has launched the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) in 2009-10 for the implementation of the Act, in which finances have been allotted for giving children protection along with a safe environment to grow and flourish.

Case Laws

The Supreme Court of India in a lot of cases over the year has endeavoured to implement the Act, like in Bachpan Bachao Andolan V. Union of India.[1] In this case, a petition was filed under Article 32, regarding the inhuman treatment and violations of rights of children forcefully detained in circuses . The court ordered the prohibition of employment of children in circuses.

In Raisul v State of UP,[2] the Supreme Court declared that death penalty should not be imposed n people below 18 years.

In Pratap Singh vs. State of Jharkhand,[3] the court held that the relevant date for determination of the age of a juvenile should the age at the date of offence and nt the date of the on which proceedings are started before the court.

The Supreme Court in Sheela Barse and Anr. v. Union of India,[4]  has directed that, the District Judges shall nominate the Chief Judicial Magistrate or any other Judicial Magistrate for visiting jails for the purpose of ascertainment of the number of children who are confined below the age of 16 years and charges against them.

Recent, thought provoking issue:

The Nirbhaya gang rape case shook the collective conscience of the people. Among five accused, one was minor aged 17 years. The crime woke the people from their slumber to the glaring reality of the juvenile justice legislation in India. Being a minor, he got away with just 3 years imprisonment for crime of such a brutal nature. A bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2014 by Maneka Gandhi, for allowing 16 year olds to be tried as adults. After getting clearance from the Cabinet, the bill was introduced in both the houses and finally came into force from 15th January 2016. According to the 2015 Act for a crime committed by a child, who is of sixteen years, the Juvenile Justice Board shall conduct a preliminary assessment with regard to his mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which he allegedly committed the offence. Along  with this provision, the Act has also been criticized for its opaque age determination system and poor draft.


Juvenile crimes are a harsh reality, and to reduce them, the Act must be effectively implemented, along with that awareness must be created. The approach and the thinking of the essential players in the system, like the police needs to change from punishing to reforming the juveniles in conflict with law. There are psychological, biological, physiological and personal factors which are responsible for juvenile delinquency, along with other factors such as peer pressure, physical disability, love for adventure, dissatisfaction with school. Family is the one of the oldest and most important units of society, it is responsible for the socialization of the child. A child learns from his family the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate. Family is the role model for a child, it is the grass root level which makes or breaks a child’s character. Parents should not only teach but also set a good example in front of their children. They can also see whether their kids are in good company or not. Imparting of sex education in schools can also be an answer for juvenile delinquency. Change is possible through better social, economic conditions, creation of awareness and also through change in people’s attitudes towards juveniles.

[1] Writ Petition (Civil) No. 906 of 2014

[2] AIR 1977 (SC) 1822

[3] (1986) 3 SCC 596

[4] 1986 AIR 1773

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