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Special Content

Issue No 33, 13-19 November 2021

14 November: Children’s Day

The Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection Of Children)

Amendment Act 2021

14th of November is celebrated in India as Children's Day. It is a day specially set aside to honor children and celebrate their presence. The day also reinforces the fact that children are the most vulnerable and it is the duty of the state to ensure their security and comfort by guaranteeing them the rights as equal citizens and provide them with special care and protection.

 In 1989, world leaders made a historic commitment to the world's children by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has become the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children's lives around the world. Most countries, including India, have adopted the principles in their laws. In India, children have all rights as equal citizens of India, just as any other adult male or female. India has a robust child rights system that comprises laws such as the Right to Education Act, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, and the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) established under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act to control and protect child rights.

 Juvenile Justice is the most sensitive area of law dealing with the rights and protection of children. Therefore, numerous amounts of legislation have been adopted at all levels, be it national or international.

A juvenile is a person less than 18 years of age. Since Independence, India's juvenile justice system has undergone many changes, keeping up with the needs of the time and circumstances. The system fulfils India's commitment as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (1993), and other related international instruments. As a signatory, India is required to undertake all appropriate measures to ensure the rights of children with regard to juvenile justice, care and protection, and adoption.

 On 09 August 2021, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2021 was notified. The act replaced the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, with a view to provide better "care and protection of vulnerable children in light of the prevailing inadequacies in the system."

 The amended law addresses issues pertaining to protection of children in a better manner in each district by empowering and entrusting the District Magistrates with more responsibilities. The amendment aims to remove bottlenecks in the implementation of various provisions of the Act and clarifies the scope of certain provisions of the Act.

AMENDMENTS: Increased role of District Magistrates

District Magistrates were already empowered to review issues related to protection of children. After the amendment, their scope now goes beyond reviewing issues. The amendments include authorizing the District Magistrate, including Additional District Magistrate, to issue adoption orders under Section 61 of the JJ Act, in order to ensure speedy disposal of cases and enhance accountability. The District Magistrates have been further empowered under the Act to ensure smooth implementation of the adoption process as well as garner synergized efforts in favour of children in distress conditions. The amended law addresses issues of delay in adoption as it proposes that appeals on the orders of adoption be referred to the Divisional Commissioner.

 Union Women and Child Development Minister, Smriti Irani, while addressing the Lok Sabha in March this year, stated that during an audit of Child Care Institutions (CCIs) by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), it was found that 39 per cent CCIs were not registered. Moreover, three-fifth of CCIs had no toilets, one-tenth had no drinking water, 15 per cent homes did not have provisions of separate beds, and one-tenth had no diet plans.

The 2021 amendment places the CCIs under the direct supervision of the DMs making the institutions more accountable. As per the amended provisions of the Act, any Child Care Institution shall be registered after considering the recommendations of the District Magistrate. The DM shall independently evaluate the functioning of District Child Protection Units, Child Welfare Committees, Juvenile Justice Boards, Specialized Juvenile Police Units, Child Care Institutions, etc.

Changes in appointment to Child Welfare Committees

In order to strengthen the Child Welfare Committees, the eligibility parameters for appointment of its members have been redefined. Criteria for disqualification of the CWC members have also been introduced to ensure that only persons capable of rendering quality service with requisite competence and integrity are appointed to CWC. According to the amendment, no person shall be appointed as a member of the Committee unless s/he has a degree in Child Psychology/ Psychiatry/Law/Social Work/ Sociology/Human Health/ Education/ Human Development/ Special Education for differently-abled children. S/he must also have been actively involved in health, education or welfare activities pertaining to children for seven years or must be a practicing professional with a degree in child psychology or psychiatry or law or social work or sociology or human health or education or human development or special education for differently abled children. The Bill adds that no person shall be eligible for selection as a member of the Committee, if s/he has any past record of violation of human rights or child rights, or has ever indulged in child abuse or employment of child labour.

Changes in Definitions

Earlier, there were three categories (petty, serious and heinous) defined under the law which were referred to, while considering the cases of children in conflict with law. However, it was observed that some of the offences did not strictly fall under any of these categories. In the 2015 Act, serious offences included the offences for which the punishment is imprisonment between three to seven years. The 2021 amendment makes an addition and states that serious offences will also include the offences for which the punishment is imprisonment for a term more than seven years and minimum punishment is not prescribed or is less than seven years.

 In the 2015 Act, a Child Welfare Officer meant an officer attached to a Children's Home, for carrying out the directions given by the Committee or, as the case may be, the Board with such responsibility as may be prescribed. The new Act amends this to a Child Welfare Officer being an officer attached to a 'child care institution'.

(Compiled by Annesha Banerjee & Anuja Bhardwajan)

(Sources: UNICEF.org, PIB, Gazette of India, PRS India)