Theories relating to Juvenile Delinquency in reference with Juvenile Justice Act, 2015

Juvenile Delinquency
Juvenile Delinquency

This article is Submitted by – B Bhanukesh


Crimes in India and across the globe have taken a new step and reached a level where no one can imagine the heights of cruelty shown by the criminals. Crime is now regarded as a custom or tradition which has been passed for ages. Children are now the ones who are getting involved in these crimes and committing all types of offences similar to that of adults. There are many acts, laws, and provisions which deal with different offences. The Juvenile Justice Act is a special act which deals with juvenile delinquents, the offences committed by the children, remedies for them, special care and protection homes, etc. This article mainly focuses on the meaning, definition, characteristics, types, and theories of juvenile and juvenile delinquency. The history of juvenile justice and the laws or acts relating to juveniles is discussed at length in this article.


Juvenile delinquency, Structural Functionalism, Symbolic Interactionism, Juvenile Justice Act, Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special and Local Laws (SLL).


Juvenile delinquency is a growing concern not only in our nation but across the globe. Many youngsters across the globe involve themselves with a grown-up formal equity framework. For many young people today, traditional guiding patterns such as family relationships, school, and work are being challenged. Social relations that ensure the smooth process of socialization are now collapsing and these youngsters are being diverted from their path. For instance, children’s behaviour at school and home is the same, because they are not in a position to understand the difference between the good and bad. This is not only a concern in developing countries but also in developed countries. Youth nowadays, regardless of gender, social origin or country of residence are subject to individual risks, these risks can sometimes be beneficial and sometimes harmful. Family, poverty, abusive conditions at home, etc can be considered as the reasons for the children to become delinquents.

Meaning and Definition of Juvenile

The term Juvenile means ‘Childish or Immature’. It is an adjective that is used as a legal term to define or to relate it to a young person who has not been considered an adult. Child and Juvenile are interchangeable words which are used to define children, teenagers, adolescent, or underage. A juvenile can be defined as a child who has not attained the age of majority where he can be held liable for criminal acts like an adult under the law of any nation.

Juvenile’s meaning in the constitution

Juvenile meaning in the Indian constitution is if a child is below the age of 18 or so under the Indian Laws, Section 2 (k) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,2000 defines “juvenile” or “Child” as a person who has not completed eighteenth year of age.[i]

Meaning and Definition of Juvenile Delinquency

Juvenile delinquency is an act of participating in an offence or act which is unlawful according to the law. In simple terms, juvenile delinquency is an unlawful behaviour of a child (minor) or individual younger than the statutory age of majority. Juvenile Delinquency is also known as Juvenile Offending. A child is said to be a juvenile if he/she is below the age of 18 years and the term delinquent means a minor crime. Juvenile crimes can range from small crimes to large crimes, the small crimes can be classified as underage smoking, drinking, etc and large crimes may involve rape or murder. Delinquency is unwelcomed action, omission or moral behaviour of a juvenile which is not permitted in a society. In general sense it means that if a child is not following the obligations anticipated and set by the people living in a society then that child is considered to be a delinquent. 

Juvenile delinquency can be better understood in two major sense; broad sense and narrow sense. In a broad sense, juvenile delinquency means behaviour by minor who violates the formal norms or laws, in a narrow sense juvenile delinquency is any behaviour by those persons who are designated as minors and are subject to juvenile courts.[ii]

Characteristics and Types of Juvenile Delinquents

Let it be petty crimes or heinous crimes, children are committing all sorts of crimes in India. Crimes such as theft, chain snatching, burglary, etc are not that serious offences but crimes such as rape, murder, robbery, etc are creating havoc in our nation. Among juveniles also there’s a specific age trend between 16-18 years who are found to be more dangerous and involved in heinous criminal activities. According to NCRB, the data given in the year 2018 shows that 40,000 cases were reported against the juveniles and 72% of these cases were reported against the children aged between 16-18 years. And the most interesting part here is that 91% of juveniles held for crime are kept or stay with parents only as they don’t report them to the police. The crimes done by juveniles were decreased in the year 2018 when compared to 2017 and 2016.[iii]

Most of the cases registered against minors were under IPC and SLL. The Nirbhaya and Shakti Mill cases are examples of brutal and heinous crime a minor could do and this triggered a debate to amend the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 which treats 18 years old person as a minor.[iv]

Different Scholars have classified Juvenile Delinquents on different aspects:

Hirsch classified them in six groups on the basis of kinds of offences committed:

1. Incorrigibility (for example, disobedience and keeping late hours),

2. Truancy (staying away from school),

3. Larceny (ranging from petty thefts to armed robbery),

4. Destruction of property (both public and private),

5. Violence against individual or community, and

6. Sexual offences ranging from homosexuality to rape.

Eaton and Polk, classified delinquents into five groups according to the offence- minor violations (disorderly conduct and minor traffic violations), major violations including thefts, property violations, addiction, and bodily harm including homicide and rape.

Eaton and Polk classified the delinquents by the following types of offences they have been involved in:

(1) Minor violations which include disorderly conduct and minor traffic violations.

(2) Property violations which include all property thefts, except automobiles.

(3) Major traffic violations which include automobile theft and drunk driving and any other offence that would involve an automobile.

(4) Human addiction which includes sex offenses as well as alcohol and drug addiction.

(5) Bodily harm which includes homicide offenses that involve sexual deviation, such as rape, and generally, all other acts of violence against a person.

Kvaraceus classifies youngsters who become delinquent in relation to three major variables:

(1) The extent to which the individual engages in delinquent behaviour.

(2) The degree of demonstrable emotional pathology.

(3) The individuals’ social class.[v]

Theories of Juvenile Delinquency

Structural Functionalism and Delinquency

Structural-functional theories regard delinquent behaviour as the consequence of strains or breakdowns in the social cycles that produce conformity. These theories focus on institutions such as family, school, and environmental aspects, that socialize individuals to follow their behaviour to values and norms of the surrounding society and on how these institutions are failing in doing this task. Structural functionalism is a structure for building hypothesis that considers a to be framework as a system to achieve and advance solidarity and stability. This theory approaches society as equipment to achieve social structures that shape society as a whole and believes that society is being evolved like an organism, this theory looks at society through a macro-level organization.

Anomie Theory

The roots of the functional theory are found in Durkheim’s notion of anomie. Durkheim defined this term as an absence of social regulation, or normlessness. After Durkheim, Merton revived this concept to describe the consequences of a non-healthy relationship between goals and legitimate means of attaining them. Merton emphasized two features of this structure; social structure and cultural structure, culturally structure included monetary success and education which were used as tools and measures to gain good results. Merton argued that our social goals are widely shared, but the means and opportunities for attaining them are not. Merton’s theory is used to explains both parts of delinquent behaviour which are dealt with the questions of why individual adolescents become delinquent and why some classes are characterized by more delinquency than others.  The lower-class or underclass are the most affected people by the disparity between goals and means of attaining them, this class has the highest delinquency rate.

Subcultural Theory

Group-based adaptions to the inability to accomplish achievement objectives involve the delinquent subculture. Albert K. Cohen in 1955 suggested that children of the underclass, and the potential members of a delinquent subculture, first experience what is a failure, even when they go to school, they are the ones who experience a failure to achieve goals or success. When these children are compared or assessed with the middle-class children, they are often found to be lacking behind them. As a result of this, the underclass children grow a sense of ‘status frustration’. Underclass children are simply not prepared to compete against the upper- or middle-class children, they aren’t ready enough to face them and they should always be taken more care of than the others. If this is not done then the underclass children find delinquency as an option for their enjoyment thus creating an alternate set of criteria or values where they can meet success. Cohen argues that these subcultural values represent a complete repudiation of middle-class standards.

Control Theory

At the level of individuals, to have neither goals nor means to achieve them is called uncommitted and thus uncontrolled. Hirsch in 1969 argued that the absence of control is all that required to explain delinquent behaviour. There are many types of control like the commitment to conformity: involvement in school, educational institutions, and other activities; attachments to friends, family, school, and relatives and also the belief in various types of values and principles. Hirschi argues that delinquent behaviour is inversely proportional to the presence of these controls. Individuals having involvement, attachment, commitment, or belief in their society have greater controlling power than the ones who are opposed to them.

Symbolic Interactionism and Delinquency

Symbolic-interactionist theories of delinquency are concerned less with values than with how social meanings and definitions can help produce delinquent behaviour. The assumption is these meanings and definitions, symbolic variations, affect behaviour. During the early periods Symbolic-interactionist theories focused on how adolescents acquired these meaning and definitions from other, especially peers; more recently, theorists have focused on the role of police and courts (official control agencies), in imposing these meanings and definitions on the adolescents.

Labelling theory

Frank Tannenbaum and Howard S Becker created and developed this theory. Frank was an Austrian-American sociologist and was born on 4th March 1893 in Austria and Becker was an American sociologist who was born in the month April 1928 in America the core of this theory is symbolic interactionism and was created by frank. Becker developed this theory by believing that the social groups create deviance by making the rules and regulations and anyone who infringes them are juvenile delinquents and they constitute the deviance. Labelling is a process of social reaction by the people living in a society, wherein people judge others and try to label them and draw conclusions that the behaviour of the said labelled person is deviant. The process of labelling works on a stigma that a specific group of people who have educated and cultured label a person as criminal because of his behaviour, actions, and mental condition. According to this theory, individuals who are labelled as delinquents by society, may not be born delinquents just because the label given to them by society makes them do crimes. Not every individual who is labelled is a delinquent and not every delinquent is labelled. Just because of the stigma or a name tag given to them as a delinquent makes them do more crimes.

Differential Association theory

Edwin H. Sutherland was an American Sociologist who was born in August 1883. He is best known not only for this theory but also, for his works on White Collar Crimes, he was the one who coined this term. Sutherland outlined this theory in his famous book Principle of Criminology which was published in 1939 but was later developed by him in 1949. According to him, criminals (juvenile delinquents) learn from other criminal and deviant behaviours. Doing a crime is not their part but it’s because of the criminal people around them which motivates them to do the crimes again and again. As criminals do criminal activities the exposure of the crimes also increases. He also says that there is no big difference between normal behaviour and that of Criminal or deviant behaviour, the learning style and the concept of learning is the same but the only difference is the association of the behaviour (the good and the bad). Sutherland gave 9 propositions of Differential Association theory which are:

1. All deviant behaviour is learned by someone and then to another.

2. Criminal behaviour is learned through interactions (communication)

3. Most criminal behaviour is learned from intimate and close relationships.

4. The techniques to carry out the behaviour as well as motives are taught during the process of learning.

5. The motivation and desire which drives towards criminal behaviour are learned through the interpretation of legal codes in one’s geographical area as favourable and unfavourable.

6. When an individual has to choose between anyone i.e. favourable and unfavourable, he chooses the one which has the most votes and which violates the legal code and lastly becomes a criminal when the favourable outweigh the unfavourable. 

7. All differential associations are different; they differ in terms of intensity, duration, and priority.

8. The process of learning criminal behaviour is the same as that of other normal behaviour.

9. Criminal behaviour could be an expression of generalized needs and values, but they don’t explain the difference between non-deviant behaviour (normal) and express the same needs and requirements.[vi] 

If the criminal wants to commit a deviant behaviour (crime) only the intention and motive are not enough, he should also possess the qualities and should have been properly educated with skills and techniques to do that criminal act.

Conflict theory

​Social Conflict theory is based on the inequalities and is based on the view that the root cause of crime are the social and economic forces operating within society. The conflict theory states that the behaviour of individuals changes because of the social institutions, political changes and revolutions in the society. The institution’s ability to change the norms, values and rules are the reasons for such behaviour (Deviant) like for example when one political party is governing a society, they make their own rules and regulation and everyone else are obliged to follow and after few years some other party comes and they declare their own rules and regulations. Here the point is that the rules and regulations are changing which directly or indirectly creates a conflict in the minds of the people to have a deviant behaviour and commit crime and become criminals. ​The class structure of the capitalist mode of production is characterized by the conflict between two main classes, this statement was given by Karl Marx in his conflict theory.[vii]

History of juvenile justice in India 

The term juvenile justice is derived from the word Juvenis, in Latin means Young so juvenile justice is a system for youngsters. Historically this concept is not new and is derived from a belief that the problems of juvenile delinquency in abnormal situations are not amenable to the resolution within the framework of a traditional process of criminal law. Over time a need felt in ensuring that the juvenile justice system besides catering to the juvenile offenders only it also provided support, harmonizing impersonal state intervention with the family, community, and the institutions, not only this but as a means of prevention, rehabilitation, and socialization through schools and religious bodies. In the year 1989 passed the UNCRC and India ratified the act in the year 1992, after eight years India introduced a new act called The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000.

Different Stages of Legislation

  1. Juvenile Justice Act, 1986: The juvenile justice act, 1986 was enacted by the parliament for the care, protection, treatment, development, and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. In this legislation girls and boys and girls are not referred to by uniform age, for boys the age was 16 years and for girls, it was 18 years. The juveniles and delinquent juveniles were lodged together in the observation home until their guilt is proved. If they are convicted then they are sent to special homes and if they are found not to be guilty then they are sent to juvenile homes. The word justice was adopted in the central legislation after the Beijing Rules introduced the term ‘juvenile justice’ in international law.
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000: This Act may be called the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. It extends to whole of India. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 deals with three types of juvenile problems:
  • Juvenile in conflict with the law.
  • Child in need of care and protection.
  • Rehabilitation and social reintegration of a child.[viii]
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015: After the frightful incident of Nirbhaya Delhi Gang Rape Case, on December 16, 2012, which shocked the whole nation and many debates and arguments were started among the socialists and the legal fraternity. Their main point of discussion was the involvement of one of the accused, who was just six months short of attaining 18 years of age. The involvement of the accused in such a serious and heinous crime led the legislation to amend and introduce a new law, thus the Indian Parliament came up with the new law or act which is known as Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

The Act seeks to achieve the objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children as ratified by India on December 11, 1992. It specifies procedural safeguards in cases of children in conflict with the law. It seeks to address challenges in the existing activities such as delays in adoption processes, high pendency of cases, accountability of institutions, etc. The Act further seeks to address children in the 16-18 age group, in conflict with the law, as an increased incidence of crimes committed by them have been reported over the past few years.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 has come into force from January 15, 2016, and repeals the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. The new Act consists of 112 Sections divided into X chapters:

Chapter I – Sections 1-2 (Preliminary)

Chapter II – Sections 3 (General Principles)

Chapter III – Sections 4-9 (JJ Board)

Chapter IV – Sections 10-26 (Procedure in Relation to Children in Conflict with Law)

Chapter V – Sections 27-30 (Child Welfare Committee)

Chapter VI – Sections 31-38 (Procedure in Relation to Children in need of Care and Protection)

Chapter VII – Sections 39-55 (Rehabilitation and Social Re-integration)

Chapter VIII – Sections 56-73 (Adoption)

Chapter IX – Sections 74-89 (Other Offences Against Children)

Chapter X -Sections 90-112 (Miscellaneous)

Key provisions

  1. Change in nomenclature from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with law’, across the Act to remove the negative connotation associated with the word “juvenile”
  2. Inclusion of several new definitions such as orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children; and petty, serious and heinous offences committed by children;
  3. Clarity in powers, function and responsibilities of Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) and Child Welfare Committee (CWC); clear timelines for inquiry by Juvenile Justice Board (JJB); The Act mandates setting up Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees in every district. Both must have at least one-woman member each.
  4. Special provisions for heinous offences committed by children above the age of sixteen years.[ix]
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Amendment Bill, 2018: The Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 addresses children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. Adoption of a child under this act is final only when it is accepted and on the final issuance of adoption by the order of the court. This bill amended this rule and stated that the District Magistrate will now give the orders for any adoption.

The bill transfers all the adoption cases pending in the courts to the District Magistrate

having jurisdiction over the area.

Features of the Amendment Bill, 2018

  • The Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 states that adoption of a child is final on the issuance of an adoption order by the court. The Bill provides that instead of the court, the district magistrate will issue such adoption orders, in order to expedite adoption proceedings.
  • The Act requires the court to ensure that
  • – the adoption is for the welfare of the child
  • – due consideration is given to the wishes of the child
  • – No party to the adoption has received any payment in consideration of the adoption.
  • The Bill transfers these duties from the court to the district magistrate.[x]


The Government of India from time to time made appropriate amendments and brought new acts, changed the existing act, and added few sections. After the Nirbhaya incident, the age for minors has been reduced (from 18 to 16) which is considered as the most crucial and important step for the judicial system and justice system. For the welfare of the child, the government and all other authorities should work together to change the system prevalent. Institutions also should create awareness to the child at a tender age, parents, guardians shall monitor the child from time to time for the welfare of the child.

[i] What is the meaning of the word ‘Juvenile’?, India Today (2018), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[ii] Satyender Verma & Laxman Singh Rawat, Juvenile justice system in India: An overview International Journal of Law (2018), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[iii] Over 40,000 juveniles caught in 2017, 72 per cent in 16-18 age group: NCRB data, The New Indian Express (2019), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[iv] Smrutisikha, Characteristics of Juvenile Delinquents in India Your Article Library (2014), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[v] Smrutisikha, Juvenile Delinquents in India: Classification, Nature and Incidence Your Article Library (2014), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[vi] Cynthia Vinney, Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory Explained ThoughtCo (2019), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[vii] .” Encyclopedia of Sociology. . 16 Oct. 2020 ., (2020), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[viii] Hemant More, Juvenile Justice Act, 1986, 2000, 2006, 2015: Objects of the Act The Fact Factor (2020), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[ix] HISTROY OF JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN INDIA, JURISEDGE (2017), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).

[x] The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2018, PRSIndia (2020), (last visited Dec 2, 2020).