Need to strengthen juvenile justice system: CJI

New Delhi, April 7 (IANS) Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir Sunday stressed the need for strengthening the juvenile justice system in the country, and to provide adequate protection for juveniles who are in conflict with law.

Addressing a conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts here, the chief justice said: “Forty-two percent of our population in India are children. How many of us even think of children as the potential force for the future?”

“Large number of them (children) do not have proper facilities despite best of our efforts and intention. This leads to number of problems, particularly drug addiction is the worst problem. To address these, we have to strengthen the juvenile justice system.”

He also stressed the need to protect the rights of juveniles, particularly underprivileged children.

“We have children with good education, they are from the elite class but what about the rest. Ten to 15 years down the line when the new generation will take over, there might be chaos if these children are not taken care of.”

He stated that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act deals with protection and care of children who are in conflict with law and they are generally not from the elite society.

The CJI asserted the need for a general discourse among all stakeholders in society to ensure laws are implemented properly.

“We need to sit and discuss. Executive, judiciary and police administration to work together to effectively implement the law,” he said.

“At the levels of district judge, collector, superintendent of police and some NGOs, they all get together they should sit in meetings every month. Just to keep the executive, judiciary and police administration jointly working together to see that the law is properly implemented.”

Two months ago, amid demands for harshest punishment to juveniles who commit gruesome crimes against women like rape, the CJI had said: “Someone below 18 years of age comes under minor category and the law takes its course as per the law of the land.”

There has been a demand for reducing the upper age limit for juveniles under the criminal justice system from 18 years to 16 in the wake of a juvenile’s involvment in the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman last year. Five men and a 17-and-half-year old youth were involved in the rape and torture, which eventually led to the woman’s deatn from grievous injuries two weeks later.

The minor was sent to a juvenile justice home and has been charged under the Juvenile Justice Act, which means he can’t be tried like the other five accused and would be sent to a correction home for a maximum of three years.

The juvenile’s involvement had initiated a debate across the country, with many demanding reducing the upper age limit for juveniles under the criminal justice system from 18 years to 16.

But child rights activists have been stressing that the best solution was to provide proper care and help to juveniles so that they don’t turn into criminals.

Justice (Retd) Usha Mehra, who recently submitted her report on the safety and security of women, stated that juveniles involved in heinous crimes should be meted out stringent punishment on par with adults.

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