The Juvenile Justice Act had been passed in Parliament in December last year amid a raging debate, which was largely focused on the 16 December 2012 Delhi gangrape. Now, the Women and Child Development Ministry has released a draft of the rules governing the Act. While the public furore is missing, this development is no less significant.
The primary stated objective of the Act, as evident from its name is the "care and protection" of children, including children in conflict with law. To be sure, there is a host of measures which have been laid down to protect the rights of children under the rules. But like a lot of other progressive provisions, the challenge lies in its implementation.
For example, the rules lay down that children between 16 and 18 years should not be sent to jails or police lock-ups should not be made to face trial with adults and should not be handcuffed. They mandate that the Juvenile Justice Board should consider a child committed the offence "under the control of adults." They prescribe in great detail the physical infrastructure required for institutions for children in conflict with law—dormitories with a capacity of 15 children, libraries, workshops, toilets, clothing etc.
The rules provide for inspection of child care institutions and cancellation of their registration if they do not comply with the standards needed. However, it remains to be seen if this will lead to genuine accountability. The regulations provide for state, district or city level inspection committees, who are expected to look into infrastructure aspects as well as act as a check against abuse. However, it could be worth pointing out that another landmark legislation created to protect children's rights, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSOA), suffers from a major lack of implementation. An article in The Hindu pointed out that even after the enactment of the legislation, the police did not invoke the law, even in cases which took place in the capital. Whether the experience in the Juvenile Justice Act will be different will be seen in the time to come.
As many worrying cases of sexual abuse in children's homes have been reported in the recent past, the rules lay a lot of emphasis on this aspect. In such cases, the authorities have to send a report to the Juvenile Justice Board, and the child has to be transferred to another place of safety. But there is a lack of clarity on the procedure to be followed in cases where staff members are involved in sexual assault. This is particularly important as a report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights had found perpetrators of abuse to be caretakers, security guards and other staff members, and not just older inmates, as per a report in The Hindu.
What remains a point of concern is the "presumption of innocence" for children, particularly in cases they are investigated for heinous offences. The law does state that children and adults cannot be tried together in any case. However, it remains unclear what happens if two courts come to different conclusions on the facts of the case, whether there will be two separate appeals and so on.
In spite of exhaustive nature of the draft rules, it still appears that the one case of 16 December, 2012 gangrape has had a disproportionately large influence on the law.
Updated Date: May 26, 2016 13:16 PM