The concept of social justice is perceived differently in different levels of society. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child qualifies children as every human being below the age of 18 years. In India, children are classified as being below the age of 14 years. We have witnessed protests and democratic struggles to conform the age limit in India to the international standard. In spite of such demands, no move has been taken in that direction. However, in the Indian legal framework, the law that deals with juveniles does conform to the international age standard.
Certain issues should be dealt with legally and some should be dealt with on the basis of social justice. With this understanding, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000 was enacted to deal with children who are in conflict with the law and children who need legal care and protection. In 2006, the central government established some amendments to the act. The act aims to provide care and protection for juveniles who are in conflict with law by adopting child friendly approaches in the best interest of the child. The act further states that children who have been accused of committing an offence should not be treated or referred to as offenders, but as children who are in conflict with law.
This legislation acknowledges the need for special care and treatment for these children, keeping in mind each child’s needs such health, psychological well being, educational goals, recreation, protection, and socializing within positive norms. All of these considerations should be taken in order to restore the child’s dignity and self-worth, thereby restoring him or her as a responsible citizen. This act also designates special child welfare officers in each police station to deal with these children after their apprehensions.
The juvenile or child welfare officer from the nearest police station shall exercise the power of apprehension only in the cases in which a child is alleged of being involved in a serious offence (defined as an offence entailing punishment of 7 or more years of imprisonment for adults). Moreover, in dealing with these cases the child welfare officer is only required to register a FIR except in the cases where a juvenile is alleged to have committed crimes of a serious nature such as rape, murder, etc. Yet in reality, many reports reveal that police often file FIRs against children and make arrests even in petty cases. We frequently see media reports such as “arrest of children in restaurants,” “two children arrested in theft case,” “students arrested following a clash in the school,” and so on.
People may argue – “do we need to pamper these children who indulge in such crimes?” or, “these children have to be given severe punishment”– They even quote some instances where children are alleged to have committed murders just for a cell phone and repayment of Rs. 100.
At the same time, we often get reports of children being arrested under the National Security Act and the Goondas Act based on caste or religion-based discrimination.
How much have civil society actions helped these juveniles to enjoy their basic rights? Are the provisions of the Juvenile Act implemented properly and effectively? Are the officials concerned with discharging their duties through the dictates of the Juvenile Act or the social justice base on which this legislation was enacted? Are children’s rehabilitation programs monitored and documented? The questions raised above remain unanswered. As EVIDENCE acknowledged the need for answers to these questions, we carried out an action oriented research study titled “Juvenile Justice and Atrocities against Children in Conflict with the Law”…