Juvenile Justice System

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It took a long battle for Jammu and Kashmir to determine the age of a minor. After police and other counter-insurgent agencies started picking up minors and, in certain cases, using fabricated documents to prove them adults, a public outcry forced the political executive to take a call on this. Finally, the population up to the age of 18 years were declared minors.

It was in the follow up to it that the government started taking the juvenile justice system very seriously. Though a slow pace movement was going on for some time towards the juvenile justice, the fast pace of developments taking place on the streets pushed things a lot. Quickly, the government set up a juvenile home in Srinagar, and within days of its completion, hoards of young boys started getting in. Some of them were accused of stone pelting and some held for being part of the street unrests.

Right now, a serious process is underway. The government has finally drafted a piece of legislation – The Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children) Bill, 2018 – that will be the guiding principles of managing the juveniles, who, for whatever reasons, get in conflict with the law of the land. The bill will eventually be the bedrock of the legal framework for dealing empathetically with the children found to be in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection by catering to their basic needs through proper care, protection, development, treatment, social re-integration, by adopting a child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposal of matters in the best interest of children and for their rehabilitation through processes provided, and institutions and bodies established.

Social welfare department has put the draft bill on its website and must be accessed by the stakeholders for detailed reading, both line by line, and between the lines. Off late, the judicial set up led by Chief Justice Gita Mittal is pushing the system to be quicker on this front. This helps the system to come out of its traditional slow pace and create the legal and physical infrastructure required for the minors of the state. There is a plan of discussions on the draft bill so that corrections, if any, can be made.

The civil society should ensure that it goes through the documents and satisfies itself.

But this is one part of the crisis that pertains to the population that is below the age of 18. There are various developments taking place, which are beyond the scope and apparently the responsibility of the officials manage the juvenile justice set up. There are disturbing reports that various minors have joined the militants. While some of them, despite being below the age of 18, have been consumed by the crisis, there are many others arrested by various counter-insurgency agencies in the last few years.

If the Kashmir society is blaming the official set-up for the crisis it had over managing the minors who were in conflict with the law, questions might be asked about society’s role in managing one part of the crisis: why nobody is talking about the boys who join the militancy at a time when they should be in the school? There are arguments that the pressures and frequent raids on the home of some of the boys, wanted for law and order issues, are forcing them to join the rebels. This might be true and it also requires the attention of the civil society. They must intervene.

Juvenile justice set up needs to be looked at from all angles by officials and the civil society. It is the most opportune time to talk about this and talk loudly.

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