A child is regarded as a delinquent when he/she commits an act which is against the law for the time being in force and at the same time also not accepted by the society at large. The prime law for juvenile delinquency in India for the time being in force is the Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection Of Children) Act 2015.
Earlier various laws were enacted to deal with the menace of juvenile delinquency which includes:
1. Apprentices Act,1850
This was the very first legislation which brought children on a different footing from that of adult criminals and offenders. This Act provided that children who belong to an age group of 10-18 years convicted of any offence by the Court of Law are to be given such vocational training which will help in their rehabilitation process.
2. Reformatory School Act, 1897
Under this Act, the Court was empowered to detain the juvenile delinquents in reformatory schools for a time span of 2-7 years and also mentioned that the same could not be continued after such a juvenile has attained the age of 18years.
3. Madras Children Act, 1920
This was the very first Act which brought forth the concept of juvenile courts and the same was later on followed in legislation regarding juveniles by Bengal legislature in Bengal Children Act, 1922 followed by Bombay Children Act, 1924.
4. The Children Act, 1960
This Act was a development over the previous legislation as it was passed to set a basic model which was to be followed. It provided for very elaborate and technical provisions coverings various aspects. It provided for the establishment of Special Child Welfare Boards which was specially designed to handle the cases of the neglected children. The Act also went on to create a special post for the position of a probationary officer whose function was to advise and assist the delinquent juveniles. Furthermore, it established special courts for children which dealt with the cases regarding the juvenile delinquents. This Act was the first detailed legislation discussing all the aspects regarding the juvenile delinquency
5. National Policy for The Welfare of Children, 1974
The policy was a very welcoming step towards the development of children of the nation as it laid stress on making such policies which would help in grooming and development of children and also stressed on providing equal opportunity to all children during their phase of development which would end up reducing the rate of juvenile delinquency and would increase the human resource of the nation at large. This policy along with previous legislation helped in the formulation of a uniform code for delivery of juvenile justice system in India.
6. Juvenile Justice Act, 1986
India was the first country to enumerate the principles of United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration Of Justice by enacting the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986. This Act laid the basic framework of the juvenile justice system in India. The Act provided for a special approach which was required to be followed for the prevention and control of the juvenile delinquency, it has set norms and standards for the administration of juvenile justice. The Act gave an inclusive definition of juvenile. According to the Act, the juvenile is a boy who has not attained 16 years of age and a girl who has not attained 18 years of age. It also provided for the formation of special homes for the juvenile delinquents and handling of the cases of juveniles by special juvenile courts. This Act by and large provided for an approach which provided for the care, protection, rehabilitation, and treatment of the delinquent juveniles. This Act repealed all previous legislation and formed the first uniform code of juvenile justice system in India.
7. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000
This Act was a modification of the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986. This Act was enforced in April 2001. This Act ensured that the children who are in need of care and protection are provided with all the necessary facilities despite their religion.
8. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act,2014
This Act replaces the previously mentioned Acts. It lays down a provision whereby juveniles between the age group of 16-18 years may be tried as adults with regards to serious and heinous crimes. The Act allowed the juvenile justice board to decide whether a juvenile should be treated as an adult in a particular case or not. The juvenile justice board constitutes a psychologist and a sociologist as well. This Act introduced the provision of Hauge Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption, 1993 which were not included in the previously mentioned legislation. The Act also provides for the adoption of the orphan, abandoned and surrendered children.
9. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015
This Act is presently in force and followed throughout India. The Act divides juveniles into two sets;
a. The child in conflict with law
b. Child in need of care and protection
The Act provides for a uniform rule for all children below the age of 18 years and also provides an exception for children belonging to the age group of 16-18years specifying that they may be tried as adults with regards to the serious and heinous offence if any committed by them. Under the said Act an imprisonment varying from 3-7 years is provided for various offences varying from serious, heinous to petty offences. It strictly laid down that no child could be awarded a sentence of death despite the offence committed by them. It also provided for a mandatory establishment of a juvenile justice board in every district which would be presided by a metropolitan magistrate and also two social workers, including a woman. The board is required to conduct a primary investigation regarding the crime committed within a particular time span and decide thereupon whether a particular child ought to be sent to a rehabilitation center or not. Lastly, a special court is also established under the Act which is empowered to try cases against the juveniles and also provided that in case such court is not established the sessions court has the jurisdiction to try the juvenile under this Act. The act also requires the establishment of a Child Welfare Committee.
Besides these legislations, various provisions are made for children in the Constitution of India under article 15(3) which enables the state to make special provisions for the development of children followed by Article 23 which prohibits human trafficking forced labour and beggar this was a practice which had exploited children badly. Also, Article 24 of the provided for the prohibition on employment of children under 14 years of age. These provisions were enacted in the Constitution to ensure that the development of the children is not hindered and that they do not tend to develop delinquent traits.
Not only limited to the constitution the India Penal Code as well and the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for special provisions for children which are as follows:
1. Section 82 of the IPC
It provides for an absolute immunity to a child below 7 years of age stating that nothing is an offence which is done by a child below 7 years of age.
2. Section 83 of the IPC
This section again provides that an offence committed by a child above 7 years of age and below 12 years is not an offence if such a child does not have sufficient maturity to understand the judge the consequences of his act.
3. section 317 of the IPC
Whoever being the father or mother of a child under the age of twelve years, having the care of such child, shall expose or leave such child in any place with the intention of wholly abandoning such child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years; or with fine, or with both.
4. section 361of the IPC
Whoever takes or entices any minor under sixteen years of age if a male, or under eighteen years of age if a female, or any person of unsound mind, out of the keeping of the lawful guardian of such minor or person of unsound mind, without the consent of such guardian, is said to kidnap such minor or person from lawful guardianship.
5. Section 27 of The Code of Criminal Procedure
Any offence not punishable with death or imprisonment for life, committed by any person who at the date when he appears or is brought before the court is under the age of sixteen years, may be tried by the court of’ a Chief- Judicial Magistrate, or by any court specially empowered under the Children Act, 1960 (60 of 1960), or any other law for the time being in force providing for the treatment, training and rehabilitation of youthful offenders.