The government has proposed that juvenile offenders be allowed to stay with their families or in foster care, unless the police have branded them hardened criminals.
Rules have been drafted under the amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act to give the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) the authority to restore offenders below the age of 18 to their families, provided the latter sign a bond taking responsibility for imposing certain restrictions on the offender.
The board can also allow foster care of the child by an individual or a voluntary organisation, who too will have to sign the same bond. “The concept is similar to that in the western countries where a child offender can live with his family but with certain restrictions,” said an official with the ministry of women and child development (WCD).
The new rules circulated last week will be notified after receiving comments to bring the amended Act of 2006 in force.
The rules also prohibit the police from arresting children accused of crimes for which the maximum punishment is less than seven years — again, except if they are hardened criminals.
Nor can the police file a First Information Report (FIR) in such cases. They can only record information about the crime committed in the daily diary, along with a social background report on the juvenile allegedly responsible. Both these will have to be forwarded to the JJB before the first hearing of the case.
Even in crimes where arrest is allowed, the policemen undertaking the task should not be in uniform, the rules say. Immediately following the arrest, the child should be handed to a special Juvenile Police Unit, which in turn must present him before the JJB within 24 hours.
Shantha Sinha, chairperson of National Commission for Children, said: "Foster care, wherever possible, provides a better chance than just custodial care of integrating the child with the mainstream."
Ram Mangal Singh of the NGO Pratidhi, which works with victims of crime, however, said, "All will depend on the implementation. The record of most state governments, including Delhi's, in enforcing such ideas has been poor."