Author: Khushi Bansal, A student at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh

It is highly flabbergasting to find that nowadays children are more prone to commit heinous crimes. Children are considered to be the ‘building blocks of a nation’ but a question of serious concern arises when they are found to be a part of the worst crimes. This calls for a set of rules and guidelines to take juvenile justice system into due consideration. As juvenile delinquency is increasing day by day, the matter is gaining adequate attention not only in the legislative meetings of India but also in the international conferences and meetings. The advocates of juvenile offenders use the maxim ‘Doli Incapax’ as the strongest tool for their defence, meaning that a child is not capable of committing a crime. On the other hand, critiques argue that age is not an appropriate criterion to punish the criminal. So this debate still goes on between the two sides.

Who is a juvenile?

The word “juvenile” derives its origin from a Latin word “juvenis” meaning young. Usually, a person below the age of 18 years is considered a juvenile as per the Indian laws. Beijing Rules mention that “juvenile” is a child or a young person, who under the respective legal systems may be dealt with for an offence in a manner which is different from an adult. As per the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, a “child” means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

The Indian statutes also define the term in accordance with the mitigating social conditions. The Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 defines a “juvenile” as a boy who has not attained the age of sixteen years or a girl who has not attained the age of eighteen years. According to The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, a “juvenile” or a “child” means a person who has not completed eighteenth year of age. The latest Act in this regard, i.e. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 states that a “child” is a person who has not completed eighteen years of age and juvenile is a child below the age of eighteen years. Thus, the definition of juvenile or child keeps changing with the passing of a new legislation by the Parliament.

Judicial Contribution-

Not only the Indian Parliament, but the Indian judiciary has also contributed significantly to develop the concept of juveniles. In Salil Bali vs. Union of India & Anr, the Supreme Court rejected to lower the age of juvenile from 18 years to 16 years and to treat the juveniles who have committed offences like rape and murder as an adult. It was also held that Juvenile Act is with consonance to the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the constitutionality of the Act was upheld by the court. In the infamous Nirbhaya Gang rape Case, public attention was brought to the issue that one of the six rapists was a minor who was escaped from getting harsher punishments. This led to a sparked public outrage raising the serious questions about the efficacy of the Juvenile Justice System in India. This case prompted numerous important changes within the Indian system; let it be the juvenile laws or the laws related to women. Consequently, numerous amendments were made to the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

Evolution of Juvenile Justice System in India-

A Latin maxim that is apt for the juvenile justice system in India is ‘Nil Novi Spectrum’, conveying that nothing is new on this earth. There has been a prevailing belief worldwide that the juveniles are to be treated with leniency. This maxim can be traced back to the understanding that young individuals are more prone to aggression and need to be handled gently. Inspired by England, the Apprentices Act, 1850 was the first legislation in the colonial India to deal with kids. In accordance with this Act, the children between ten and eighteen years of age who committed an offence were placed into apprenticeship programs as a part of reformative measure. A decade later, The Indian Penal Code, 1860 was introduced. Though it was not specifically focused on juvenile offenders, Section 82 of the code provides complete immunity to children less than 7 years of age, following the principles of doli incapax. In 1919, a prison committee was appointed whose recommendations brought significant reforms in the provinces of Bengal, Madras and Bombay. 

Evolution in Independent India-

Post independence, the Children Act of 1960 was in existence that was aimed at implementing international approaches towards the issue of juvenile justice, providing a consistent policy that safeguards the interests and rights of juveniles. It also focused on the care, treatment, rehabilitation and overall development of the children. Inspired by the international efforts outlined above, the Indian lawmakers were driven to come forward with new, progressive and stricter laws for the establishment of an effective juvenile justice system in the nation. 

Consequently, a more comprehensive legislation, i.e., the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 was passed introducing a new concept stating that children in conflict with law were not actually the ‘criminals’ but they were in need of care and protection. The legislation also provided for the establishment of a Juvenile Welfare Boards in order to oversee the implementation of the Act. The observation homes were mandated by the act for the purpose of temporary care of children awaiting trial. The act was replaced by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 that brought the Indian juvenile justice system in line with the international standards set by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. The act of 2000 rose the age of juveniles from 16 to 18 along with laying considerable emphasis on the rehabilitation and social integration of the juvenile offenders.

Aftermath of Nirbhaya Case-

The notorious Nirbhaya gangrape case brought into limelight the prevailing juvenile justice system in the country. When the court deemed one of the rapists a juvenile and treated him differently from the other offenders, public sentiment turned hostile. There was a widespread demand for the death sentence for the juvenile involved in the incident. The public outcry resonated within the Indian Parliament that resulted in the enactment of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The new legislation aimed at creating a more robust and more efficient juvenile justice system that integrates both deterrent and reformative approaches. The primary provisions of the act are explained as follows:

  • The new act acknowledges the need to treat juvenile offenders differently from that of the adults. It emphasizes the importance of providing them the space for transformation, rehabilitation and growth in a specialized justice system.
  • The act also distinguished between the “child in need of care and protection” and “child in conflict with law”.
  • Additionally, there is a classification of offences into heinous, serious and petty categories, allowing the offender aged 16 to 18 to be tried as adults only after an evaluation of their mental capacity.
  • The legislation also introduced the setting up of juvenile courts for the trial of juveniles. It further broadens the definition of “child in need of care and protection” to encompassing the cases where the guardians of a child are unfit or disinterested in care giving, where the child has to work as a child labour in violation with the labour laws of the land, or where there is a genuine risk of marriage before reaching the legal age.
  • In addition to the above provisions, the act provides for adoption, affirming the rights of the adopted children. The main objective of the act is to consolidate the laws pertaining to juvenile justice and child protection with the aim to cater to their basic requirements.
  • The act adopts a child-friendly approach to adjudicate the matters involving children and disposing such matters prioritizing the best interest of the children.
  • The act lays emphasis on the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders through various child care houses and institutions.

Judicial Precedents-

The Indian courts have grappled with the issue of juvenile delinquency making efforts during the final disposition of cases to provide an opportunity for remediation to the minor offenders. This includes offering proper training, necessary security, care and protection aimed at integration of juveniles back into mainstream society. Some of the landmark judgments passed by the Indian judiciary are as follows:

  • Laxmikant Pandey vs. State

The apex court stated that every child possesses the right to love and affection along with right to moral and material security, which is best possible only when the child is being raised in a family. So the court suggested that international adoptions should be considered only after all avenues for adoption within our own country have been explored.

  • Kulai Ibrahim vs. State of Coimbatore

The court observed that accused has a right to raise the question of juvenility at any stage of the trial or even after the disposal of the case, as provided under Section 9 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

  • Deoki Nandan Dayma vs. State of Uttar Pradesh

It was held by the court that entry in the school register mentioning the date of birth of the student is admissible evidence to determine the age of a juvenile. The same was reiterated in the case of Satbir Singh and others vs. State of Haryana.

  • Krishna Bhagwan vs. State of Bihar

The court ruled that for the purpose of trial before the JJ Board, the relevant date for the consideration of the age of the juvenile should be the date on which the offence was committed.

  • Arnit Das vs. State of Bihar

The Supreme Court overruled its previous judgment and held that date to decide the juvenility should be the date on which the accused is brought before the competent authority.


Before wrapping up, it is pertinent to highlight the amendment made in the year 2021, according to which the district magistrate was given the power to issue adoption orders that were earlier in the hands of civil courts of the nation. The amendment also expands the definition of ‘serious offences’ to encompass non-heinous offences as well, where the maximum punishment exceeds seven years of imprisonment, or the minimum punishment is not specified or is less than seven years. Prior to this amendment, it entailed only punishments ranging from three to seven years of imprisonment.

Culminating with the information gathered and present above, it can be inferred that establishment of a proper and efficient juvenile justice system is highly required in a nation for providing special treatment, care and protection to the juvenile offenders. The primary focus of this system is reformation and rehabilitation and not punishment. Considering children as the future resource of the country, the goal is to create a safe and protective environment for them. The aim of faster evolution of juvenile justice system is to bridge the gap between theory and practical at the earliest. While the government has enacted a number of laws and regulations aimed at reducing youth crime, the current juvenile laws appear to lack a deterrent effect on juvenile offenders. Consequently, the results are not yielding the desired productivity and the legislative intent remains unfulfilled. But we hope for a better situation in future where we achieve the purpose of juvenile laws, which is to secure the interest of the children.



  • Juvenile Justice System in India: A Critical Analysis, by Dr. Gurmeet Kaur and Ms. Manjula Raghav
  • Juvenile Justice and its wake, by Anushka Paliwal
  • Historical Development of the Juvenile Justice System in India, by Aseem Prasenjit and Poonam Devi
  • An Analytal Study of Juvenile Justice System in India, by Anmol Singh Khanuja and Purti Vyas
  • Juvenile Justice System in India 2023, Juvenile Court Laws
  • Juvenile Justice System in India
  • Juvenile Justice System in India, by Divyansh
  • Role of Juvenile Justice System in India, by Akanshabarua

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