Evolution of Juvenile Justice


A juvenile or child is a person under 18 years old. International law recognizes any person under the age of 18 as a child. A child is defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which has become universally acceptable. The Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Act, of 2000 defines a juvenile or child as someone who has not reached eighteen years of age. Children are a country’s future in that respect, it is everyone’s duty to ensure that they grow up in an environment that ensures their safety. However, in India criminality among adolescents has significantly declined, like illness among us.

Key Words 

Children’s rights, Juvenile delinquency, Juvenile system, Juvenile crime, Juvenile justice act


Juvenile justice refers to the legal system specifically designed to address crimes committed by minors. Unlike the adult criminal justice system, which prioritizes punishment and deterrence, juvenile justice focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration. 

The concept of a “child” is internationally recognized as anyone under 18, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indian law reflects this definition through the Juvenile Justice Act. While ensuring child safety is paramount, juvenile delinquency is a growing concern in India. This analysis explores the evolution of juvenile justice legislation in India, from British rule to the present day. Despite legal safeguards, the rise in juvenile crime poses a significant challenge. India’s diverse society grapples with various justice issues, including those in the Juvenile justice system. By examing the complexities of juvenile crime in India, this analysis aims to identify its causes and prevention strategies. Finally, recommendations are offered to curb juvenile delinquency based on the understanding of India’s juvenile justice development. 

The core purpose of juvenile justice is twofold: public safety and rehabilitation. Public safety is ensured by holding young offenders accountable for their actions and preventing future delinquent behaviour. This can involve removing them from dangerous situations or providing guidance to help them make better choices. However, juvenile justice recognizes that young people are still developing, with brains that continue to mature well into their twenties. Rehabilitation focuses on addressing the root causes of delinquency, such as poverty, neglect, or mental health issues. This can involve educational programs, counselling services, or community-based interventions aimed at helping young people become productive members of society. 

The importance of juvenile justice stems from the understanding that young people have a greater capacity for change than adults. By intervening early and providing opportunities for rehabilitation, the system aims to prevent a cycle of crime and create a safer environment for everyone. 

Research Methodology 

This paper is illustrative and descriptive and highlights the different aspects of the juvenile system in general as well as in the Indian context. By using the established works of various scholars and from different sources this piece aims to contribute to the world of knowledge and aims for an enhanced understanding of the issue. 

Review of literature 

The United States’ progressive era can be linked to the development of the juvenile justice system. Juveniles were frequently treated and punished like adults prior to this time. A major change towards a more restorative strategy was signaled in 1899 by the establishment of the first juvenile court in Cook County, Illinois, and by reformers like Jane Addams. A primary topic of discussion in juvenile justice literature is the efficacy of rehabilitation initiatives. Throughout the 20th century, therapy and rehabilitation of young offenders took precedence over punishment. Juveniles were thought to be more receptive to rehabilitation than adult offenders because of their developmental stage, according to early supporters Nevertheless, there has been conflicting empirical data about the efficacy of different intervention techniques. Certain rehabilitation programs have been found to have positive results in some studies, yet to have little or no long-term effect on recidivism rates in others.

Present Difficulties- There are still a lot of obstacles to overcome in the juvenile justice system reform process. The overrepresentation of young people of color in the system is one major problem. Fairness and equity have been called into question by the numerous studies that have shown racial and ethnic discrepancies in arrest, adjudication, and incarceration rates. For juvenile justice practitioners, the rise of new issues like cybercrime and gang membership also poses difficulties.

Different Methods- Alternative approaches to juvenile justice are becoming more and more popular as a reaction to these difficulties. For instance, restorative justice prioritizes relationship restoration and harm healing over punishment. Community-based initiatives, on the other hand, have become more popular as a means of addressing the root causes of delinquent behavior while maintaining a connection between young people and their communities. Sheela Barse v. Union of India (1986) JT 1986 136 1986 SCALE (2)230 In this instance, a petition was filed requesting the court to release children under the age of 16 who were being held in various state jails. The petition included details about the number of juvenile courts, shelters, schools, and the conditions of these children in prison. In response, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the relevant parties and instructed Judicial Magistrates in districts to conduct visits and inspections of all jails, shelter homes, observation homes, etc., within their jurisdictions. They were required to submit a report to the court within a week. The primary concern in this case was whether children under 16 in jails were subjected to mistreatment and abuse. Pratap Singh v. State of Jharkhand (2005) 3 SCC 551 The appellant in this case was arrested for allegedly causing the death of someone through poisoning. At the time of arrest and court appearance, he was 18 years old. However, it was claimed that he was a minor when the crime occurred. The case was then transferred to a juvenile court, which determined that he was indeed a minor when the crime happened and granted him bail. The opposing party disagreed with this ruling and appealed to the Additional Session Judge. This judge ruled that the date of court appearance should determine the individual’s age as a juvenile, not the date of the crime. The High Court of Jharkhand upheld this decision, considering school certificates as crucial evidence. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, stating that the date of the crime should be the deciding factor in determining juvenile status, not the court appearance date. Hari Ram v. State of Rajasthan (2009) 13 SCC 211 In this case, the accused to be below 16 years old by the date the crime was committed according to the 1986 Act, and so his case was referred to the Juvenile Justice Board in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The High Court, on the other hand, relied on the testimony of his father and medical reports and held that at the time of the commission of the offence, the accused was above the age of 16 and, hence, excluded him from the ambit of a juvenile. However, the 2000 Act increased the age from 16 years to 18 years, under which a child would be considered a juvenile under the Act. The issue brought before the Supreme Court was which Act should apply to Hari Ram’s case. The Supreme Court ruled that all pending cases should be governed by the 2000 Act once it came into effect. Therefore, in this case, Hari Ram was considered a juvenile under the 2000 Act. Abuzar Hossain @ Gulam Hossain v. State of West Bengal (2012) AIR 2013 SUPREME COURT 1020 In this case, the appellate court raised a question about the accused’s juvenile status at the time the crime occurred. The Supreme Court ruled that a claim of juvenility can be brought up even after a case has been concluded, emphasizing that delays in raising such claims shouldn’t automatically lead to their rejection. However, the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim. The court stressed that technicalities should not hinder the consideration of juvenile claims but also have the authority to dismiss false claims. In this specific case, the issue of the accused’s juvenility was not addressed during earlier stages of the legal process, and there was no evidence supporting the claim. The court referenced the Gopinath Ghosh v. State of West Bengal case of 1984, which emphasized the importance of discussing age determination even if it was not previously addressed. In that case, an accused convicted of murder argued that they were under 18 years old at the time of the offence, falling under the category of a “child” according to the West Bengal Children Act, 1959. This led to the issue of age determination being referred to the court of the Additional Session Judge. Jarnail Singh v. State of Haryana (2013) AIR 2013 SUPREME COURT 346 7 In this instance, the accused faced charges for forcibly taking the prosecutrix from her parents and engaging in sexual intercourse with her. Following an investigation that found the prosecutrix in his residence, the sessions court sentenced him to ten years of rigorous imprisonment and imposed a fine. The accused, as the aggrieved party, appealed this verdict, claiming that the prosecutrix had enticed him and stayed with him willingly. Additionally, he argued that evidence established the accuser as a minor. The Supreme Court ruled in this case that the guidelines for determining juvenile age under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007, apply not only to cases under that Act but also to those falling under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. 



Young people’s behaviour can lead them down the path of delinquency, but it’s not always easy to predict. Kids start developing their ways of acting early on, and these patterns can change as they experience new things in life. As soon as a kid grows up and enters the real world, their behaviour patterns alter often, and a variety of situations or circumstances may give rise to delinquent conduct in them. However, the following list of reasons for juvenile delinquency may be of interest: 

  •  Adolescence Instability 

Adolescence is a time of big changes for teens, both physically and mentally. They become more aware of themselves and their desires, and they crave independence. However, if given too much freedom without proper guidance, they might develop rebellious or anti-social behaviours. In other words, a teen’s biology, psychology, and social environment all play a role in shaping their actions during this crucial stage. 

  • Economic Condition and Poverty 

Poverty and economic hardship can leave parents struggling to provide for their children’s basic needs. This can create a situation where kids expect their desires to be fulfilled, regardless of the means. However, even when these desires are met, it can lead children to steal from others, either at home or from their peers’ parents. This behaviour, if not addressed, can easily become a habit, contributing to a rise in petty theft. 

  •  Migration  

The major causes of rising adolescent delinquency rates are also the breakdown of the family structure and weak parental supervision. Lost and alone, young boys on the streets find themselves around criminals involved in drugs, prostitution, and illegal goods. The allure of quick money and a sense of belonging might lead these vulnerable kids down a dangerous path. 


Juvenile criminal behaviour can generally be classified into three primary categories: 

  • Violent crimes encompass acts such as assault, rape, and murder, resulting in physical harm to others. 
  •  Property crimes occur when a child uses or threatens physical force to take someone else’s belongings. 
  •  Drug-related crimes involve activities like drug use or trafficking illicit substances.

These classifications align with the findings of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) as well as the categorizations presented by Eaton and Polk in their work “Measuring Delinquency.”:

  • Minor Violations: 

Minor violations in the context of juvenile justice often refer to infractions that are relatively less severe compared to other offences. These may include minor traffic violations such as speeding, parking violations, or driving without a license. While these infractions are not considered major crimes, they still warrant attention as they can indicate potential patterns of risky behaviour or disregard for laws and regulations. Addressing minor violations early on can help prevent escalation into more serious offences and promote a culture of compliance with legal norms among young individuals. 

  •  Property Violations: 

Property violations encompass a range of offences related to the unlawful use, damage, or theft of property belonging to others. This can include vandalism, burglary, theft, or destruction of property. Such offences not only result in financial losses and emotional distress for victims but also indicate underlying issues such as disregard for others’ rights and boundaries. Effective interventions for property violations in juvenile justice often involve restitution, community service, and educational programs aimed at promoting respect for property and fostering responsible behaviour. 

  •  Major Traffic Violations: 

Major traffic violations in the realm of juvenile justice pertain to more serious offences related to vehicular activities. This may include offences like automobile theft, reckless driving resulting in accidents, driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, and fleeing from law enforcement. These violations pose significant risks to public safety and require swift and appropriate intervention. Juvenile justice systems often employ measures such as driver education programs, counselling, and legal sanctions to address major traffic violations and deter repeat offences. 

  •  Bodily Harm: 

Offences involving bodily harm, such as homicide offences, represent the most severe categories of juvenile crimes with significant legal and societal implications. Homicide, which involves the unlawful killing of another person, is a grave offence that requires thorough investigation, legal prosecution, and appropriate sentencing. In the juvenile justice context, addressing bodily harm offences necessitates a balanced approach that considers factors such as intent, circumstances, and rehabilitation potential while ensuring accountability for the harm caused. Prevention efforts focusing on conflict resolution, anger management, and violence prevention education are also crucial in mitigating the risk of bodily harm offences among juveniles. 

There has been some international influence on the local perspective on juvenile justice. Modifying its juvenile justice system in conformity with the principles outlined in the UN Standard Minimum Rules, India was the first nation to do so. The  Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 created a standardized legal framework for juvenile justice, offering a unique strategy for the prevention and control of juvenile delinquency, outlining the systems and structures necessary to carry out juvenile justice work, establishing norms and standards for the management of juvenile justice, fostering appropriate links and coordination between the formal system and nonprofit organizations, and establishing specific guidelines for the treatment of juvenile offenders.

JUVENILE JUSTICE (Care and Protection of Children) ACT 2000 laid the foundation for juvenile justice but faces several challenges. These include delays in procedures like rulings by Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) and Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs), leading to a backlog of cases. Investigations into minor offences are also delayed, causing young offenders to stay in homes for extended periods. Reports of child abuse in institutions are on the rise, while unregistered homes lack proper facilities and rehabilitation strategies, contributing to repeat offences and other issues. Adoption processes suffer from inaccuracies and delays, and there’s a lack of clarity on the roles and responsibilities of key entities. Rehabilitation plans are often delayed, and children have limited involvement in trials. Juvenile Justice Boards lack child-friendly processes, and there’s a lack of provisions for innocent children arrested for offences. Institutions often fail to register under the Act, with no penalties for non-compliance. Reporting mechanisms for abandoned children are lacking.


The realm of juvenile justice is a complex landscape characterized by evolving societal perspectives, legal structures, and the inherent vulnerability of young individuals within the criminal justice system. This discourse has emphasized the multifaceted nature of juvenile delinquency, intertwining legal considerations, societal accountabilities, and the necessity for holistic interventions. As we conclude this exploration, it is apparent that juvenile justice transcends mere punitive actions; it demands a comprehensive strategy that tackles root causes, rehabilitates offenders, and nurtures a supportive environment for youth development. 

A primary challenge in juvenile justice is finding a delicate equilibrium between accountability and rehabilitation. While holding young offenders responsible for their actions is vital for upholding societal norms, it is equally crucial to acknowledge the potential for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Studies consistently reveal that punitive measures alone often fail to address the underlying issues fueling juvenile delinquency. Instead, a rehabilitative approach offering educational opportunities, mental health assistance, and skill-building programs presents a more promising avenue for reducing repeat offences and fostering positive behavioural change. 

Additionally, justice for juveniles encompasses more than courtroom proceedings; it encompasses the broader societal fabric shaping their experiences. Tackling systemic disparities, ensuring access to quality education and healthcare, and fostering stable family environments are all integral aspects of effective juvenile justice reform. By investing in preventive measures and early interventions, we can mitigate risk factors associated with delinquency and empower young individuals to make constructive choices. 

In recent years, there has been a growing acknowledgement of the necessity for trauma-informed practices within the juvenile justice system. Many young offenders have endured adverse childhood experiences like abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence, significantly influencing their behaviours and decision-making processes. Incorporating trauma-informed strategies into juvenile justice initiatives ensures these underlying traumas are addressed with compassion and support, ultimately promoting healing and resilience. 

Moreover, collaboration among diverse stakeholders is imperative for substantial progress in juvenile justice reform. This entails cooperation among law enforcement, judicial bodies, social services, mental health professionals, educators, and community organizations. By pooling their expertise and resources, these stakeholders can devise comprehensive interventions catering to the diverse needs of young offenders and fostering positive outcomes. 


Juvenile delinquency represents a substantial societal challenge, with a discernible upward trend in youth-related crimes necessitating urgent mitigation efforts supported by empirical data and statistical evidence. The severity of these offences, ranging from murder to rape and robbery, underscores the inadequacy of age as the sole criterion for sentencing leniency. Recent legislative amendments, such as the inclusion of Sections 376-A and 376-E in the Indian Penal Code post the 2012 Delhi gang rape, imposing capital punishment for rape convictions, demonstrate the dynamic nature of legal frameworks adapting to evolving societal norms and concerns. In contrast, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000 imposes a maximum three-year penalty irrespective of crime severity, a leniency that challenges societal expectations of justice. This incongruity necessitates a rigorous reevaluation of the Act’s applicability to varying offences for the betterment of society. The differentiation between minor and severe offences, such as murder versus petty theft, demands a nuanced approach to sentencing those accounts for crime gravity. The unfortunate trend of youth offenders evading appropriate consequences due to age-related leniency highlights the pressing need for legislative reform. However, legal amendments alone cannot sufficiently combat juvenile delinquency; a broader societal awareness campaign addressing underlying societal ills is imperative. Recognizing juvenile offenders as victims of societal failings underscores the pivotal role of families and educational institutions in early intervention and prevention. Parents and the government share a collective responsibility to nurture children’s intellect and character without stigmatizing them as criminals, thereby fostering a more enlightened and crime-free civilization. The more actions made, and plans put into action, the more likely it is that society will be raised from the darker juvenile crimes to a brighter civilization free of juvenile delinquencies. A society devoid of crime, corruption, and poor health is thereby both feasible and achievable.  

In conclusion, juvenile justice necessitates a multifaceted approach encompassing legal, social, and psychological dimensions. Prioritizing rehabilitation, addressing systemic disparities, integrating trauma-informed practices, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders is key to establishing a fairer and more empathetic juvenile justice system. Ultimately, our collective endeavours should be guided by the principle of nurturing the well-being and potential of every young person, ensuring they can thrive and contribute positively to society.

Ridhi Batra

Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies