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Parliament Passes Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill To Strengthen Child Protection; Empower District Magistrates To Authorise Adoption Orders

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
28 July 2021 10:15 AM GMT
Parliament Passes Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill To Strengthen Child Protection; Empower District Magistrates To Authorise Adoption Orders
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The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021. It was cleared by the Lok Sabha on March 24, 2021, purportedly to "strengthen the child protection setup under the 2015 Act".The Bill inter alia, seeks to re-define the category of "serious offences" under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and...

The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021. It was cleared by the Lok Sabha on March 24, 2021, purportedly to "strengthen the child protection setup under the 2015 Act".

The Bill inter alia, seeks to re-define the category of "serious offences" under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and further, empower the District Magistrates to pass adoption orders.

Minister of Women and Child Development, Smriti Zubin Irani, highlighted that Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) take a lot of time to process adoption of children. Thus, Amendment Bill provides for conditions under which CWCs have to function and report to the District Magistrate to process the adoption in a timely manner.

The Bill was passed in the upper house without much discussion due to disruptions caused by opposition protests.

Salient Features

Re-defines Serious offences

Section 2(54) of the JJ Act provides that a serious offence is one for which the punishment under prescribed is between 3-7 years. Such offences are to be disposed of by the Board, by following the procedure for trial in summons cases under the CrPC.

In Shilpa Mittal v. State of NCT of Delhi, the Supreme Court observed that the Juvenile Justice Act does not deal with the fourth category of offences viz., offence where the maximum sentence is more than seven years imprisonment, but no minimum sentence, or minimum sentence of less than seven years is provided and treated the same as "serious offences" under the Act.

It had asked the Law Ministry and the Home Ministry to ensure that the issue raised in this judgment about the 4th Category of offences is addressed by the Parliament as early as possible.

To give effect to the above recommendation, the Bill proposes to redefine 'serious offences' to include such offences for which the punishment is:

  • minimum imprisonment for a term of 3-7 years;
  • maximum imprisonment for a term more than 7 years but no minimum imprisonment or minimum imprisonment of less than 7 years.
Classification of offences and designated Courts

The Bill proposes to amend Section 86 of the Act to the effect that offences punishable with imprisonment between 3-7 years shall be non-cognizable and non-bailable. (At present, such offences are cognizable (where arrest is allowed without warrant) and non-bailable).

The Bill also proposes that notwithstanding anything contained in CrPC or the POCSO Act, or the Child Rights Act, offences under the JJ Act shall be triable by the Children's Court.

Presently, only such offences that are punishable with imprisonment for more than 7 years are triable by the Children's Court. Other offences (punishable with imprisonment less than 7 years) are triable by Judicial Magistrate.

Adoption

Section 58 of the JJ Act prescribes the procedure for adoption of children by prospective adoptive parents. The procedure involves a seal of approval by the Civil Court, which passes the final adoption order.

The Bill provides that instead of the court, the District Magistrate (including Additional District Magistrate) will issue such adoption orders, both for intra-country and inter-country adoptions.

The Union Minister said, "It was observed that there is significant delay in finalisation of adoption cases in Courts. Besides, these adoption cases are non-adversarial in nature and to be dealt according to well laid out process. Hence, it is proposed to culminate the adoption process at the level of District Magistrate in the District."

Appeals

Section 101(3)(b) of the JJ Act provides that there will be no appeal for any order made by a Child Welfare Committee finding that a person is not a child in need of care and protection. The Bill proposes to omit this provision.

The Bill further proposes to insert sub-sections 6 and 7 under Section 101 of the Act. The proposed provisions provide that any person aggrieved by an adoption order passed by the District Magistrate may file an appeal before the Divisional Commissioner within a period of 30 days. Endeavour shall be made to dispose of such appeals within 4 weeks.

Additional functions of the District Magistrate

The Bill proposes to empower the District Magistrate including Additional District Magistrate to effectively coordinate and monitor the functions of various agencies responsible for implementation of provisions of the principal Act.

They have been empowered to (i) supervise the District Child Protection Units and Special Juvenile Protection Units, and (ii) conduct a quarterly review of the functioning of the Child Welfare Committee, JJ Boards.

Child Welfare Committees

The Bill seeks to strengthen the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) by incorporating provisions relating to educational qualifications for its members and stipulating eligibility conditions for selection of the Committee.

Presently, Section 27 of the Act provides that States shall constitute one or more CWCs for each district for dealing with children in need of care and protection. Sub-section 4 thereof provides that the members of CWCs should be: (i) involved in health, education, or welfare of children for at least 7 years, or (ii) a practising professional with a degree in child psychology, psychiatry, law, or social work.

The Bill proposes to insert sub-section (4A) under Section 27 to stipulate certain additional criteria for appointment of CWC members.

It provides that no person shall be eligible for selection as a member of the CWC, if he:

  • has any past record of violation of human rights or child rights
  • has been convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude, and such conviction has not been reversed or has not been granted full pardon in respect of such offence
  • has been removed or dismissed from service of the Government of India or State Government or an undertaking or corporation owned or controlled by the Government of India or State Government
  • has ever indulged in child abuse or employment of child labour or immoral act or any other violation of human rights or immoral acts
  • is part of management of a child care institution in a District.

Concerns expressed by members of Lok Sabha

When the Bill was discussed in the Lok Sabha during this year's Budget Session, most of the members had supported the Bill. A few issues that were raised during the discussion are listed below:

  • The Bill puts entire onus of children's welfare on District Magistrates, ignoring the fact that the DMs are over-burdened authorities, with the charge of entire district and other multifarious duties. Ministry should consider providing them with suitable assistance to ensure that this important issue does not get side-tracked in the rigmarole of their day to day work.
  • Centralizing all powers with respect to children rehabilitation in one authority (DMs) may lead to delays, and may have wider repercussions on child welfare.
  • The Grievance redressal powers under the Act have been taken away from the judiciary and have been given to the executive. It seeks to take away the role of judges who are specialized authorities in dealing with the nuances of law. This has serious implications on the doctrine of separation of powers.
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