Child offenders won’t be put in jail, say new rules

  • Moushumi Das Gupta
  • Updated: May 26, 2016 12:28 IST

NEW DELHI: No longer can police register an FIR against underage offenders accused of minor offences. But they can do so if the crime attracts imprisonment of more than seven years, or is committed jointly with adults.

These are part of draft model rules unveiled by Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi on Wednesday for the juvenile justice law.

The child-friendly provisions will be part of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which was passed by Parliament in December.

Other than crimes for which an FIR can be registered, other cases will be handled by the special juvenile police unit or the child welfare police officer who will record the offence in the general diary.

The juvenile offenders will not be put in lock-up or jail with adults. They will get medical and legal aid while guardians have to be informed promptly after a child is detained or arrested. If the child is hungry at the time of arrest and says so, he or she must be provided food without delay.

The Juvenile Justice Board and children’s court should see to it that a child offender is rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, Gandhi said.

The draft rules also say state governments are required to set up at least one “place of safety” for rehabilitation of juveniles convicted of heinous crimes. The rules have specified a timeframe to ensure speedy trial for underage offenders — that is, anyone below 18 years. The board, committee or court will have to determine the age of an offender within 30 days of a petition in this regard.

For heinous crimes such as rape and murder committed by a suspect of more than 16 years of age, the child welfare police officer will have to produce statements of witnesses and investigation reports within a month.

The revamped juvenile justice law has paved the way for trying rape and murder suspects in the 16-18 age-group as adults. But they still can’t be given the death sentence or a life term. The age factor was earlier dubbed a flaw in the law and has been hotly debated after the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of a paramedical student in which an accused was a juvenile. The brutal crime triggered a nationwide demand for harsher punishment for offenders below the age of 18. Such offenders are tried by the Juvenile Justice Board and sent to a child correctional home for three years if convicted. But the onus will be now on board to decide if a case should be tried by regular court.

In a first, many new offences against children have been included in the law. Sale of children, corporal punishment in childcare institutions, forcing children to become child soldiers, and giving juveniles alcohol, drugs or tobacco products are illegal now. These are aimed at curbing trafficking, child labour, drugs abuse and shoving children into militancy.

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