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SANSAD TV: BILLS: AN INSIGHT- JUVENILE JUSTICE AMENDMENT, 2021

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Introduction:

The amendment seeks to strengthen protection of children — including the ones who require protection under the law as well as those who are in conflict with the law and also streamline the process of adoption in the country.

Key Issues and Analysis:

  • Adoption of a child is a legal process which creates a permanent legal relationship between the child and adoptive parents.  Therefore, it may be questioned whether it is appropriate to vest the power to issue adoption orders with the district magistrate instead of a civil court.
  • As of July 2018, there were 629 adoption cases pending in various courts.  In order to expedite adoption proceedings, the Bill transfers the power to issue adoption orders to the district magistrate.  An issue to consider is whether the level of pendency justifies shifting the load to the district magistrate.
  • The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (2015) had noted that various statutory bodies under the Act were not present in many states.  As of 2019 only 17 of 35 states/Union Territories had all basic structures and bodies required under the Act in all districts.
  • In 2017, the Madhya Pradesh High Court noted that children declared legally free for adoption were not being given timely referrals by Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA).  It recommended that the Steering Committee of CARA may monitor and investigate the conduct of CARA.

Key Features:

  • Adoption: Under the Act, once prospective adoptive parents accept a child, an adoption agency files an application in a civil court to obtain the adoption order.  The adoption order issued by the court establishes that the child belongs to the adoptive parents.  The Bill provides that instead of the court, the district magistrate (including additional district magistrate) will perform these duties and issue all such orders.
  • Appeals:The Bill provides that any person aggrieved by an adoption order passed by the district magistrate may file an appeal before the Divisional Commissioner, within 30 days of such order.  Such appeals should be disposed within four weeks from the date of filing of the appeal.
  • The Act provides that there will be no appeal for any order made by a Child Welfare Committee concluding that a person is not a child in need of care and protection.  The Bill removes this provision.
  • Serious offences: The Act provides that the Juvenile Justice Board will inquire about a child who is accused of a serious offence.  Serious offences are those for which the punishment is imprisonment between three to seven years.  The Bill adds that serious offences will also include offences for which maximum punishment is imprisonment of more than seven years, and minimum punishment is not prescribed or is less than seven years.
  • Designated Court: The Act provides that offences against children that are punishable with imprisonment of more than seven years, will be tried in the Children’s Court (equivalent to a Sessions Court).  Other offences (punishable with imprisonment of less than seven years) will be tried by a Judicial Magistrate.  The Bill amends this to provide that all offences under the Act will be tried in the Children’s Court.
  • Offences against children: The Act provides that an offence under the Act, which is punishable with imprisonment between three to seven years will be cognizable (where arrest is allowed without warrant) and non-bailable.  The Bill provides that such offences will be non-cognizable and non-bailable.
  • Child Welfare Committees (CWCs): The Act provides that states must constitute one or more CWCs for each district for dealing with children in need of care and protection.  It provides certain criteria for the appointment of members to CWC.  For instance, a member should be: (i) involved in health, education, or welfare of children for at least seven years, or (ii) a practising professional with a degree in child psychology, psychiatry, law, or social work.  The Bill adds certain criteria for a person to be ineligible to be a member of the CWC.  These include: (i) having any record of violation of human rights or child rights, or (ii) being a part of the management of a child care institution in a district.

Way forward

  • To ensure proper implementation, the DMs will have to hold regular fortnightly meetings with all five arms – CWC, JJ Board, CCI, district child protection units and special juvenile police units.
  • Specific training in child protection rules will also have to be imparted, as DMs usually are not trained or equipped to deal with these specific laws.