Juvenile Justice Act essentially a social welfare law

The involvement of a "minor" in the horrific Delhi gangrape has sparked a debate on the Juvenile Justice Act, including whether exceptions should be made depending on the crime or if the age of a juvenile itself should be lowered. With the Supreme Court on Monday deciding to examine the definition of juvenile in the Act, The Indian Express looks at the law and the nuances of its statutory provisions:

What is the Act?

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, amended in 2006 and 2011, contains statutory provisions to handle cases relating to minor offenders, called as "delinquents," "juveniles in conflict with law" or as "children in need of care and protection". The word "accused" is not purposely used for minor offenders so as to prevent the stigma associated with it. The Act is essentially a social welfare legislation, crafted specially to deal with offenders under the age of 18 and aimed at their proper care, protection and treatment through catering to their development needs. It makes it mandatory for juvenile courts to adopt a child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposition of matters.

What is the definition of 'juvenile' as per law?

Section 2(k) of the Act defines a "juvenile" or a "child" as a person who has not completed 18 year of age while 2(l) says a "juvenile in conflict with law" means a juvenile who is alleged to have committed an offence. Regarding determination of the age of a juvenile, the Act calls for a "due inquiry" by competent authority usually the Juvenile Justice Board. Rules under the Act lay down that medical opinion on the age of an accused be sought only if he fails to produce matriculation or an equivalent educational certificate, or a birth certificate in absence of the former.

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