A bill to amend the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which seeks to increase the role of district magistrates and additional district magistrates, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor opposed the bill at the introduction stage but Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani rejected the points raised by him.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021 was later introduced by a voice vote.
As per the Cabinet decision, in every district, the district magistrate and the additional district magistrate will get the power to monitor functions of agencies responsible for the implementation of the Act.
The district child protection unit will also function under the district magistrate.
According to amendments cleared by the Cabinet last month, before becoming a member of a child welfare committee, background and educational qualification checks will be included.
The amendment to the bill intends to empower district magistrates and additional district magistrates to authorise orders of adoption, propose that appeals on the orders of adoption may be referred to the divisional commissioner, and to strengthen child welfare committees by incorporating provisions relating to educational qualifications for the members and stipulating eligibility conditions for selection of the committee.
The bill seeks to categorise offences wherein the maximum sentence is more than seven years' imprisonment but no minimum sentence or a minimum sentence of less than seven years has been provided as "serious offences" under the Juvenile Justice Act, and to remove difficulties in interpretation of the Act.
"Serious offences" includes offences for which the punishment under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for the time being is imprisonment between three and seven years.
The bill intends to ensure that the district magistrate is suitably placed to ensure effective coordination among the stakeholders for facilitation of necessary services for children's rehabilitation or re-integration.
By further empowering district magistrates to deal with child protection and adoption processes, it aims to facilitate a coordinated and effective response of the administration to various issues pertaining to children, including adoption, the bill said.
On the child welfare committee, the bill said no person shall be appointed as a member unless they have been actively involved in health, education or welfare activities pertaining to children for at least seven years or is a practicing professional with a degree in child psychology or psychiatry or law or social work or sociology or human development.
The bill further proposes that the appointment of any member of the committee shall be terminated by the state government, after making an inquiry, if they fail to attend the proceedings of the committee consecutively for three months without any valid reason or if they fail to attend less than three-fourths of the sittings in a year.
The bill makes the district magistrate the grievance redressal authority for the child welfare committee, and anyone connected with a child may file a petition before the official, who shall consider and pass appropriate orders.