'Chasm between ideals and implementation of JJ Act'

Imperative to acknowledge that children in conflict with the law are not just offenders but in many cases are in need of care and protection, said Justice D Y Chandrachud. Photo/PTI

There is a "chasm" between ideals and implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act and an approach focussed on deprivation and poverty was necessary to address the problem of juvenile delinquency as unfortunate circumstances push minors into substance abuse and violence, a Supreme Court Judge said on Saturday.

Justice D Y Chandrachud, who was speaking at the National Juvenile Justice Consultation programme held at the Supreme Court here, said it was imperative to acknowledge that children in conflict with the law are not just offenders but in many cases are in need of care and protection.

"We have amazing legislations but there is a chasm between ideals and implementation of the law... Children often inherit crime. They are born into unfortunate circumstances which push them into substance abuse and violence," he said.

While speaking on 'Child Care Reform: Towards Strengthening Accountability for Children', Justice Chandrachud said the subject was a personal one for him as he and his spouse were foster parents to two physically-disabled young girls who grew up in a village in Uttarakhand.

"It was personal for me to be in such a setting as I and my spouse provide foster care to two young girls and they are children who grew up in a small village in Uttarakhand. They are physically challenged but amazingly bright and vibrant mentally," he said.

The judge further said that maintenance of standards was crucial where institutions are concerned and gave examples of Muzaffarpur and Panvel shelter homes' cases where minor girls were allegedly sexually abused.

"The maintenance of standards is crucial where institutions are concerned because whether it is the context of the Muzaffarpur home case in Bihar or the Panvel shelter homes case in Mumbai which I dealt with when I was a judge of the Bombay High Court, the problem is the absence of standards and the enforcement of standards despite the establishment of structures of governance," he said.

Talking about children involved in the drug trade, Justice Chandrachud said children who are seen as offenders were indeed victims of the trade.

"Given the deplorable living conditions of many children in India, it is imperative to acknowledge that children in conflict with the law are not just offenders but in many cases are children in need of care and protection.

"If you look at the drug trade, for instance, children who are otherwise treated as offenders are indeed the victims of the drug trade because they are essentially drawn into the net by being exposed to petty drugs and then they become carriers and then become offenders," he said.

Justice Chandrachud said statistics indicate that there is a strong correlation between deprivation of economic resources and juvenile delinquency.

"In India, children often inherit crime. They are born into unfortunate circumstances which push them into substance abuse and violence. Our statistics today indicate that there is a strong correlation between deprivation of economic resources and juvenile delinquency," he said.

The apex court judge further said that according to recent National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) data, in 2015, 42.39 per cent of children in conflict of law belong to families with incomes of Rs 25,000, 28 per cent belong to families with incomes between Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 and 2-3 per cent belong to families with incomes in the higher bracket of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh.

"It is thus evident that children covered under the ambit of the JJ Act need economic support and planned attention. Thus, a more holistic approach focussed of deprivation and poverty is necessary to address the problem of juvenile delinquency," said Justice Chandrachud.

He further talked about the problems of mainstreaming where every child is expected to fulfil the same standard of homogeneity but it is in the development of diversity that their true potential is realised.

"The second important problem that I perceived in our approach to children is the problem of mainstreaming. I think the reason we tend to mainstream is we are a very large and populous country. And you need to mainstream to ensure standards are maintained. When you have to deal with the non-maintenance of structure you have to have a certain degree of mainstreaming and uniformity of application.

"Every little child is expected to fulfil the same standard of homogeneity and we don't understand that children are intrinsically different. Every child has a different need and in the process of mainstreaming every child with the same standard, one of the dangers we face is we lose touch with the individual needs of rehabilitation and care of each individual child... It is in the development of diversity that the true potential of every child is realised," he said.

Justice (Retd) Madan B Lokur, who also spoke at the programme, said that even after almost 19 years of the enactment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, it has not been implemented effectively.

"Even after almost 19 years of enacting the law, registration of shelter homes for children have not been done. That's why we have issues of sexual abuse, trafficking, drugs and so many other issues. Are we implementing the laws? The higher officials have a duty to ensure that the laws are implemented effectively," he said.

Justice (Retd) Lokur further said that there was no point wasting paper on schemes if they are not being implemented.

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