A law supposed to give justice to wronged children has been diluted in a way that will further impair chances of redress, alleged rights activists.
The amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, passed in Parliament last year, has turned from cognisable to non-cognisable a list of “serious” offences — which carry a jail term of three to seven years — under Section 86 of the act, like using children for peddling drugs and using children as beggars.
Lawyers say that in case of a cognisable offence, the usual practice for police is to lodge an FIR and start a probe. In case of a non-cognisable offence, a magisterial nod is needed for cops to start a probe, they said.
The child rights panels of West Bengal, Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab and Chandigarh have written to Indevar Pandey, secretary of the Union ministry of women and child development, seeking the restoration of “cognisability status of the serious offences”.
“The five commissions recommend to the government of India to not notify the date of commencement of the Amendment Act 2021 in so far as it deals with classification of serious offences as non-cognisable. We further recommend to the Government of India that the bill be tabled in Parliament to further amend the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, to restore the cognisability status of the serious offences,” said the petition.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2021, has received the President’s assent but the date of commencement of the act is yet to be notified.
At a news conference at the office of the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights, chairperson Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti explained the reasons for opposing the recent amendments.
“The kin of an aggrieved child can easily visit the local police station. But access to a magistrate will be a Herculean task for them. They will need the help of a lawyer. The procedural hassles and the financial implications will pose huge challenges for many,” she said.
“If the Centre does not heed our demands, we will move the Supreme Court,” said Chatterjee Chakraborti, a signatory to the petition.
She alleged the amendment was passed in the Lok Sabha by the “brute majority of the ruling party”. In the Rajya Sabha, the suspension of MPs following the uproar over the (now-junked) farm laws helped in the passage of the bill, she said.
“The rationale being offered is that the amendments shield children in conflict with law from being apprehended without warrant. This is an erroneous and misplaced inference. Children’s protection from arrest does not come from Section 86 of the original act but from Rule 8 of the Model Rules notified under the act,” said a note from the Bengal panel for child rights.
Several rights activists were part of Monday’s news conference.
“There was no joint parliamentary committee, no consultation with stakeholders whatsoever before the amendments were tabled. Their (the Union government’s) mindset suggests children are not their priority,” said Bappaditya Mukherjee of Prantakatha, an organisation that works for the marginalised.