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The reason for many countries across the world adopting a separate legal system for handling juvenile delinquency stems from the belief that a child can commit no wrong, and if he does so, he should be punished


The reason for many countries across the world adopting a separate legal system for handling juvenile delinquency stems from the belief that a child can commit no wrong, and if he does so, he should be punished and dealt with in a way different from that of an adult offender. ‘Juvenile’ refers to any person who gets involved in the commission of an offence and who, at the time of committing that offence, hasn’t attained the age of majority, and ‘Juvenile delinquency’ refers to the ‘Act’ so committed by the Juvenile which is punishable by law, and for which an adult, would otherwise be tried in a different manner.

The Juvenile Justice Systems were adopted in order to have a separate mechanism for dealing with juvenile offenders. The main aim of these systems is to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and deter any future criminal activity. They focus more on the restoration and reformation of the juvenile rather than the punishment. This is done through various methods like counselling therapy, social service, community programs, etc. Through these methods, they try to mold the individual in such a manner that he becomes a law-abiding citizen and a productive part of society.


The reasons for juvenile delinquency are multifaceted. They involve various social, psychological, and economic factors. However, one of the main reasons commonly observed around the world is the lack of care and attention children and youngsters receive from their parents and family members. They are often neglected, which leads them to pursue the wrong path. When a child is at his developing stage, he must be taught good values and nurtured in such a way that he is able to differentiate between right and wrong. When parental care and affection are absent, children tend to exhibit delinquent behavior. Some of the other reasons include –

  • Lack of proper education or poor performance in school[1]– Children’s intellectual development is given more weight in the current educational system and society than their emotional and mental health. Neglecting societal norms and associating with those who engage in criminal activity could arise from this.
  • Socio-economic instability [2]– Children from low-income families often tend to indulge in criminal activities such as pickpocketing, smuggling, etc. in order to satisfy the basic needs of their families. Parents of these children also tend to neglect their upbringing, which leads them to commit serious crimes.

Thus, a variety of circumstances contribute to the delinquent behavior that children and young people exhibit and this has been a persistent recurring global phenomenon.


History of Juvenile Legislations

The first legislation in India that dealt with ‘children in conflict with law’ was the Apprentices Act, of 1950 and this Act allowed courts to treat children who had committed petty offences as apprentices rather than imprisoning them. The Reformatory Schools Act, of 1897 was another legislation passed during the pre-independence era, wherein children below the age of 15 years who were sentenced to imprisonment may be sent to reformatory schools instead of prisons.[3] In the post-independence era, The Children Act of 1960 was passed to provide for the care, maintenance, protection, welfare, education, training, trial, and rehabilitation of abused and neglected children. This Act was later replaced by the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986(‘JJ Act,1986’) which established a uniform law for the treatment of juveniles across the country. In response to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,1989, the Indian Parliament repealed the JJ Act, 1986, and passed The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Though it was significant legislation, it had major loopholes and was replaced by The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,2015 after the horrific Nirbhaya Case[4].

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,2015(‘The Act’) defines ‘child’ as any person below the age of 18 years[5] and classifies children into 2 kinds –

  • Children in need of care and protection[6]
  • Children in conflict with the law[7]

The Act further classifies offences into heinous, petty, and which are serious and allows a juvenile between the age of 16-18 accused of a heinous crime to be tried as an adult. It also provides for the establishment of Juvenile Courts and Juvenile Justice Boards across the country. The main aim of The Act is to expand the scope and consolidate the laws relating to ‘children in need of care and protection’ and ‘children in conflict with the law’.


Until the 19th Century, juveniles accused of crimes were tried and subjected to the same punishment as adult offenders. The idea of a separate justice system for juveniles took birth here with the establishment of the first Children’s Court in Cook County, Illinois in 1889. The System focused more on rehabilitation of juveniles rather than punishment. It focused more on probation and juvenile detention centers were set up to hold the juveniles during their trial. The System developed over time with specialized judges and court procedures. However, it was also criticized for the lack of due process and protection of juvenile rights. Therefore, the US Supreme Court between 1960-70 delivered various landmark judgments that established the due process rights for juveniles. One such case is In re Gault (1967) [8]wherein the court held that juvenile defendants were entitled to due process rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. These rights included the right to be notified of criminal charges, the right against self-incrimination, the right to be represented, etc.

It was not until the 1980s that harsher punishments like the death penalty were awarded to juvenile offenders. However, in Roper v Simmons (2005)[9], the Supreme Court ruled that under the Eight Amendment, it was cruel to impose the death penalty on any person who was under the age of 18 at the time of committing the crime.

In the US, the age of majority differs from state to state. While in a majority of the states, it is 18 years, in other states it is 21 years. The Juvenile courts of each state exercise jurisdiction over juvenile offenders. Whatever may be the age of majority in that particular state, the jurisdiction of the juvenile court over a juvenile offender cannot extend beyond his 21st birthday.

The juvenile justice system in the US has taken a highly reformative and rehabilitative approach. The primary objectives of this system apart from maintaining public safety include habilitation, rehabilitation, skill development, and effective re-entry of the youth into the community.


Similar to the US, it was not until the 19th Century that a proper system was adopted to deal with juvenile offenders in England. It was done through the Children Act of 1908 wherein Juvenile Courts (re-named as Youth Courts in 1991) were set up to deal with juveniles.

The English Youth courts have jurisdiction over juvenile offenders between the ages of 10 and 16 (those who are under 14 are called “children,” and those who are over 14 and under 17 are called “young persons.”). While those under the age of 21 are subject to special sentencing guidelines, criminals who are 17 years of age and above appear in regular adult courts.

The Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 was enacted by the UK parliament to consolidate all the laws relating to persons under the age of 18. This Act extended the powers of juvenile courts and raised the minimum age for the death penalty to 18 years.

The juvenile justice system in Scotland is based on a policy that prioritizes the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. While in Whales, police have the authority to exercise discretion over juvenile disposition.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility (below which a child cannot be arrested) is 10 years in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while it is 12 years in Scotland as per The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019.


The problem of juvenile delinquency is not restricted to India alone and is quite evident even in developed countries like the US and UK. Though the legislations vary from country to country, the approach adopted by these countries is similar. However, to curtail the increasing rate of juvenile offences, lawmakers must adopt a deterrent approach and move away from archaic reformative practices. Stringent legislations are need of the hour and they must be properly enforced. The families of children and the communities must work hand-in-hand with the government to achieve better results.

Author(s) Name: Gayathri Sai Pisupati (Osmania University , Hyderabad)


[1] Shipra Tiwari, ‘Juvenile Justice System in India and the Mental Health of Juveniles’ (SCC Online, 05 June 2021) <> accessed 10 May 2024

[2] Ibid

[3] ‘Regressive step’ (Frontline – The Hindu, 06 January 2016) <> accessed 10 May 2024

[4] Mukesh & Anr. v State(NCT of Delhi) & Ors (2017) 6 SCC 1

[5] The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,2015 , s 2(12)

[6] The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,2015 , s 2(14)

[7] The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,2015 , s 2(13)

[8] In re Gault [1967] 387 U.S. 1

[9] Roper v Simmons [2005] 543 U.S. 551