The Juvenile Justice Center : a hub working for system support and reform

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Juvenile justice, as opposed to criminal justice, recognises children who come in conflict with law as victims. It takes into account the fact that children, being at the nascent stage of cognitive and psychosocial development, are unable to commit offences out of malafide intent, and that nothing but contextual risk factors push children to come into conflict with law.

Article 40(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), 1989, recognizes a child’s right to protection from maltreatment within the justice system. After ratifying the UNCRC, in 1992, India had made an international commitment to ensure all the rights of children recognized therein.

Article 4 of the UNCRC mandates Member States to undertake legislative processes to ensure the rights of children.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, is the primary legal framework for juvenile justice in India.

Apart from protecting the protection rights of children who come in contact with the justice system, this Act comprehensively covers the concerns of at-risk or vulnerable children and puts the onus of ensuring their protection rights, on the State. The Act mandates the establishment of several Statal institutions (Child Protection Institutions) that are to be responsible for securing the rights of children who come in conflict with law, and of children who are at-risk or are vulnerable. Additionally, the Act lays out (i) processes that need to be followed by institutions that are in contact with children (ii) procedures for adoption and (iii) punishment for certain crimes against children.

While the institutions under the Juvenile Justice Act have been established in States and districts across India, there are several gaps that obstruct the implementation of the Act, in letter and in spirit.

After working for 8 years in the child protection sector, in Assam, we have realized that these gaps arise from the failure on the part of institutions to fulfil their lawful mandates vis-à-vis child protection. Core to the failure of institutions, we believe, lie individual behavioural, technical and accountability challenges, which we seek to address.

Our focus is to address challenges  vis-a-vis two categories of children under the Juvenile Justice Act (i) Child Sexual Abuse victims, who are defined as ‘Child in Need of Care and Protection” in the Act, and (ii) Children who infringe upon the Penal law, who are defined as “Child in Conflict with Law” in the Act.

*Child Sexual Abuse victims are also covered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012(POCSO)