Juvenile Justice System and Reforms in India

Published On: 1st August, 2023

Authored By: Avinash Pandey
NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai

Juvenile Justice System and Reforms in India


The Latin expression juveniles, which means youthful, is where the name juvenile first appeared. Furthermore, according to the juvenile justice act, a youngster under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile. The most basic legal concept is that when unequal people are together, given equal treatment, and given a platform, the consequence is inequality rather than equality, and that children and adults are two separate species. Children are a respected group in society, thus treating juveniles with empathy is necessary. Keeping these Juveniles with adult offenders would make them criminals rather than help them to rehabilitate. They don’t realise that youngsters shouldn’t receive identical punishments as adults because of their age along with the potential repercussions of their behaviour. Youngsters that require care and protection after running afoul of the law. Considering children are regarded as the most valuable resource in any community or country, it is important for them to grow up to be responsible adults who are cognitively sharp, physically strong, as well as morally sound so they may contribute to the advancement of civilization. Children commit crimes for a variety of reasons. The juvenile system according to law was created to safeguard the rights of minors and children who have been charged of crimes or who have experienced abuse or abandoned by their biological parents or legal guardians.

The juvenile justice system in India considers the appropriate course of action for two groups of children: those who are “in disagreement with the law” (a person under the age of 18 who is accused of committing an offence) and those who are “in need of care and protection” (children from underprivileged and marginalised sections of society along with those with distinct requirements as well as vulnerabilities). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as well as the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules) serve as the foundation for India’s juvenile justice policy. Other international agreements, such as the CRC and Beijing Rules, are also taken into consideration.

Our parliament approved the “Juvenile Justice Act, 1986” to create a uniform juvenile justice system across the country, provide care, safety, medical attention, growth and development, along with rehabilitation for overlooked or delinquent juveniles, as well as the hearing and resolution of certain issues related to, and disposition of, indecent juveniles. In accordance with Section 2(a) of the Act of 1986, “boys who have not attained a minimum age of 16 years as well as a girl who has not achieved the age of 18 years” are regarded to be juveniles. However, the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 brought up the age requirement to 18 for both girls and boys. According to the Act of 2000, minors who are in trouble with the law may be housed in observation homes while minors who require care and protection must be housed in children’s homes while cases are pending before the appropriate authorities. Regardless of the seriousness of the alleged offence, a juvenile can only be held for a maximum of three years in a special home according to the “Juvenile Justice Act of 2000”, which exempts children who were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offence from criminal court proceedings as well as any criminal penalties in accordance with Section 17 of the Juvenile Act.

History of Juvenile Justice System

The treatment of children, the creation of legislation, the length of interventions, and other government policies may all be used to categorize the evolution of the juvenile justice system across India. Prior to 1773, we had both Muslim and Hindu law. Muslims used to adhere to Sharia law, whereas Hindus used to follow Manusmriti. Considering the rules that regulate this culture and the focus placed on healthy child-rearing as the parent’s exclusive obligation for the kid’s care and protection. In the event that they were incapable of doing so, a member of their community utilized to look after the youngster.

The earlier “Children Act of 1960” was repealed by the “Juvenile Justice Act of 1986”, which was also put into action. This was done to ratify the UNGA’s “Standard Minimal Regulations for the Governance of Juvenile Justice”, that were enacted in November 1985. The legislation effectively created the same structure to govern the defence of juveniles’ rights and interests throughout the nation, with the then exclusion of Jammu & Kashmir. It even specified certain key rules for the execution of justice as well as the sequence of action to be undertaken when young offenders commit serious offences. The “Juvenile Justice Act of 2000” was enacted in order to ratify the 1989 protocol on the maintenance of children’s rights adopted by the UN General Assembly; however, it was ill-equipped and badly executed. In an effort to close the gaps and loopholes, it was modified subsequently in 2006 as well as in 2011, both times in vain. The act was abolished and replaced with the “Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015”, that is currently the first piece of law controlling India’s juvenile justice system, in an effort to counteract the rise in juvenile delinquency.

The “Juvenile Justice Act of 2015” succeeded the “Juvenile Justice Act of 2000” on the basis that a stronger and more practical justice framework was needed, one that concentrated on obstacles to the adoption of reformative approaches. Juveniles shouldn’t be treated like adults; in Parliament, there are discussions about providing young people greater freedom to change, rebuild, or change, which is only feasible when there is an effective judicial system.

In terms of courts, these are particular courts set up to handle exclusively misdemeanors, such as NDPS courts, POCSO courts, and so on. The term “Children in Need of Care and Protection” was expanded by the “Juvenile Justice (Child Care and Protection) Act of 2015”, which entered into force in 2016, adding the following features among others, as stated in Article 2 (14) of that law. People whose parents or guardians cannot or will not concern for their children. those who are or are being found operating against the law. those who are about to be hitched before reaching majority age. The definition of registration has been made clearer by the legislation that recognises children’s rights to adoption.

Juvenile Justice System in the United States and United Kingdom

A person who is younger than the legal drinking age of eighteen (18) or younger than the age of full formal responsibility and accountability is referred to as a juvenile. A juvenile is a person who falls between the ages of sixteen to eighteen; nevertheless, a juvenile who is found guilty of an offence is not tried as a grownup but rather sent to the juvenile care facility. A young person accused of perpetrating an offence is either sentenced in an adult court or is labelled as a juvenile criminal. In respect to their legal importance, both names differ even if they have the same general connotation. Children and teens are considered minors; however, juveniles are either underdeveloped individuals or young criminals. These are specialised tribunals established specifically to deal with misdemeanours, such as NDPS courts, and POCSO courts, along with others. The Juvenile Justice (Child Care and Protection) Act of 2015, which went into effect in 2016, broadened the definition of “Children in Need of Care and Protection” by adding the following characteristics among others, as stated in Article 2 (14) of that law, people whose parents or guardians cannot or will not concern for their children. those who are as well as have been found operating against the law. those who are about to be hitched before reaching majority age. The definition of registration has been made clearer by the legislation that recognises children’s rights to adoption.

When we talk about the United Kingdom, The Children Act of 1908 allowed for the establishment of juvenile courts in England for the first time. The Children & Young Offenders Act of 1933 grants the Juvenile Courts civil investigative authority in some significant instances. The Act also mandates that juvenile courts alone be used to try any children or young people who committed the offence. The Act also allows for the construction of remand homes. The new Act that also addresses the legal rights of juvenile offenders was included in UK legislation. The Criminal Justice Act of 1948, sometimes known as the Act, gives juvenile criminals a certain level of security by placing them in detention facilities.

When compared to other nations, the juvenile courts in the country of America run more smoothly and effectively. American courts execute unofficial trials of criminal defendants. The investigating police officer initially has the discretion to either keep the juvenile offender in the supervision of the youngsters, dismiss him immediately, admonish him, or do both. The police must make contact with the Juvenile Courts to alert them of the situation and transfer the proceeding to themselves.

Present Status of Juvenile Justice System in India

The “Juvenile Judicial Act of 2000” was superseded by the “Juvenile Justice Act of 2015” simply because a more powerful and efficient judicial system that prioritized both deterrence and reformative techniques was required. There were arguments presented to the Parliament that the juveniles must be allowed greater room for conversion, reformation, or betterment and that is only feasible when there is a unique judicial system. Juveniles should be treated differently from adults in terms of attitude. This led to the “Juvenile Justice (Care as well as Protection of Children) Statute, 2015,” which was the new statute, focusing on a juvenile-friendly method of case adjudication and resolution.

A juvenile is defined as an individual who hasn’t reached the age of 18, or who is younger than 18, under “Section 2 (12) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015”. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Security of Children) Act of 2015’s “Section 2 (13)” refers to a “Child in conflict with law” as well as the Act’s definition of “Child” is “Child in need of care as well as safety.” Following a careful assessment of their mental competency, specific rules have been developed that permit an adult trial in cases involving juveniles between the years of sixteen and eighteen the creation of juvenile courts that required the creation of separate courts that would only hear cases involving minors, which included NDPS Courts, and tribunals addressing POCSO, etc.

In addition to the numerous additional conditions specified in Section 2 (14) of the Act, the “Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015” enlarged the definition of “Child in Need of Care and Protection” by taking the following into consideration:

i) The ones whose guardians, whether parents or other adults are/were incapable of caring for the child.

ii) Individuals that are now engaged in unlawful employment or that have been found doing it.

iii) Individuals who are about to consider getting married prior to the appropriate legal age.

The goal is to strengthen the laws corresponding with children maintained to have been determined to be in disagreement with the legislation and children are in need of security and special consideration by keeping into consideration their basic needs through appropriate nurturing and safeguarding, development, medication, as well as socialization, and by implementing an approach that is child-friendly in the determination along with the removal of problems affecting the greatest interest of youngsters. The Act also emphasizes youthful criminal rehabilitation via various institutions including day-care centers. The “assert for juvenility” is the initial and most controversial topic among lawyers and Marxists. The Board of Juvenile Justice will rule on the juvenile issue. The allegation of juvenility must be decided by the Board prior to the commencement of legal proceedings, notwithstanding the fact that it may be presented in trials at any time, irrespective of whether the Board reached an agreement on the subject. When formulating the choice on the charge of juvenility, the Court had to take “Rule 12 of the Juvenile Justice Rules from 2007” into account.

The initial phase of life is when behavioral trends start to take shape, and it’s also the period wherein it’s hardest to tell one sort of activity from another. However, when a child grow older alongside experience the outside world, their behavioral patterns might change and they may become involved in delinquent conduct as a result of a number of different scenarios or contexts. Several of the elements that affect adolescent delinquency are listed below:

a) Teenage Instabilities

The psychological, physiological, and sociocultural composition of a teenager is one of the major factors influencing their behavior tendency. At this age, youngsters start to feel more self-conscious concerning their interests, nutrition, hobbies, and attire.

b) Systematic Family Disintegration

The breakdown of the family structure or insufficient oversight by parents are the main contributors to the rise in juvenile delinquency rates. The primary causes of teenage misbehavior are often parental divorce, a loss of supervision from parents, and a lack of affection and tenderness from parents.

c) The state of the economy and poverty

Parents and legal guardians repeatedly struggle to provide for their children’s needs due to unemployment or poor financial situations, and youngsters frequently anticipate that their parents would use any means required to fulfil their wishes. Kids frequently resort to stealing from homes or other people after their necessities have been addressed, but, and their wants have been fulfilled.

Aftermath of the Nirbhaya Case (Delhi Gang Rape)

The public has many important concerns after the recent gang rape of a 23-year-old female in New Delhi, India. People from all around the nation responded angrily and hurtfully, and they banded together to launch a campaign for the protection of women in India. During this uproar, news reports revealed information on a young child whose repugnant acts of violence helped shape public opinion. While child rights organizations and campaigners advocated in favour of maintaining the current juvenile justice system for young ones, the people of India urged for changes to the juvenile justice system by lowering the age of juveniles to 16 years (now 18 years).

The occurrence that prompted authorities to once again pay attention to this issue and put the standards for designating someone for a juvenile trial in the public eye was the Delhi gang rape. Public demonstrations against the governments of India and Delhi for failing to provide proper protection for women in New Delhi only occurred after and as a result of this occurrence, and hundreds of thousands of protestors engaged in violent clashes with security forces. Major cities around the nation saw similar demonstrations. Widespread condemnation of this occurrence occurred both in India as well as overseas, and it received extensive national and worldwide media attention.

The Delhi Police labelled the youngster as the most violent of the six offenders in the 33-page case file. The Juvenile Justice Board utilized the accused’s birth certificate and academic records to determine that he was 17 years and 6 months old on the day that he committed the offence. A police petition for a bone ossifying (age identification) test to provide conclusive proof of the man’s age was denied by the JJB. The JJB ruled the child to be a juvenile on January 28. The JJB denied a plea submitted by Subramanian Swamy, the president of the Janata Party, asking for the prosecution of the youngster as an adult due to the heinous nature of his accused conduct. A juvenile court held a separate trial for the kid.

The issue that now faces all of us is whether such a mild punishment for such horrific and evil conduct is sufficient and serves its goal. Since a juvenile would “make a parody of the legislation” and “walk freely without any suitable punishment and a fair trial so long as the offender is involved,” the situation has gained “public significance.”


The Constitution is regarded as being India’s fundamental law. According to the Constitution, individuals have certain privileges and responsibilities. It also includes provisions for how the government apparatus would function. Both in Part III and Part IV of the Constitution, the Directive Principles of State Policies (DPSP), which act as general guidelines in formulating the policies of the government, are provided for the benefit of the people. The Constitution grants a few basic rights and protections, primarily for the protection of children. One of the core principles of criminal law is the “Doli Incapax” doctrine, which emphasizes the juvenile’s criminal accountability. When this idea is applied and interpreted in light of Indian Regulations, it becomes clear that no child under the age of 7 ought to be prosecuted for committing the crime. “Doli Incapax” describes the idea that a person is incapable of committing a crime. This provision is based on the “United Nations Convention on the Rights and Freedoms of the Child”, which mandates that each nation must determine a minimum age for which youngsters should be shielded from any charges of criminality due to their inability to comprehend the full meaning alongside consequences of their actions.

As it favors punishment and embodiment above reform, rehabilitation, as well as integration of the Juvenile in the community, the Provision is backward in character. According to “The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights” (NCPCR), our nation boasts one of the most cutting-edge juvenile justice systems in the world right now, with an intense child-central emphasis and a distinct division between adult as well as juvenile jurisdictions. Yet there is still a long way to go before the juvenile justice system is fully realized and implemented, and once it was, the abuse including lack of access to essentials, entitlements, and health that existed before the children entered the juvenile court system returned.


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