NCPCR’s Guidelines for Conducting Preliminary Assessment for Child Offenders

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has issued guidelines for the first time for conducting a preliminary assessment to determine whether a child should be treated as a minor or not in criminal cases which come under the “heinous” offences category of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015

Under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, a child is defined as an individual who has not completed 18 years of age. However, there is a specific provision under which initiation of an inquiry into a heinous crime has been differentiated based on the age of the child. According to Section 15(1) of the Act, in case of a heinous offence alleged to have been committed by a child “who has completed or is above” the age of 16, the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) “shall conduct a preliminary assessment with regard to his mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which he allegedly committed the offence”. The Board may then pass an order that there is a need for trial of the child as an adult.

Responsibility of Juvenile Justice Board (JJB)

The Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) is solely responsible for conducting preliminary assessment, which it must complete within three months from the date of first production of the child before it. In case the Board determines that there is a need for a trial of the child as an adult, it will then transfer the case to the Children’s Court.

Age Determination

To determine the offender’s age, the JJ Board would either obtain the date of birth certificate from the school or the matriculation or equivalent certificate from the concerned examination Board in the absence of the birth certificate given by a civic body. Only in cases where neither of the two are available, “age shall be determined by an ossification test or any other latest medical age determination test” conducted on the orders of the JJ Board, say the guidelines.

Categories of Criminal Cases Involving Children

The amendment passed in 2021 by Parliament defines three categories of criminal cases involving children in conflict with law. They are “heinous offences,” which include crimes for which the minimum punishment is imprisonment for 7 years or more; “petty offences,” which includes crimes for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment up to three years; and “serious offences,” which includes crimes for which the punishment is a minimum imprisonment for a term more than 3 years and not exceeding 7 years.

Two Essential Conditions for Preliminary Assessment

The sole aim of preliminary assessment is to determine whether the child in the age of 16-18 years should be tried as an adult in case of heinous offence. There are two essential conditions that call for preliminary assessment. First, the offence is in the category of “heinous” as defined in the Act. Second, the child who has allegedly committed the crime is in the age group of 16-18 years.



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