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New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021 that proposes to increase the role of district magistrates and additional district magistrates in child care and adoption.

The Bill which seeks to amend the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 was passed by Lok Sabha in March 2021. The Act stated that adoption of a child is final on the issuance of an adoption order by the civil court. The Bill provides that instead of the court, the district magistrate, including additional district magistrate, will issue such adoption orders.

Under the 2015 Act, offences committed by juveniles are categorised as heinous offences, serious offences, and petty offences. Serious offences include offences with three to seven years of imprisonment. The Bill adds that serious offences will also include offences for which maximum punishment is imprisonment of more than seven years, and minimum punishment is not prescribed or is less than seven years.

Amid disruptions in the Rajya Sabha, Smriti Irani, women and child development minister, while moving the bill said children of this country deserve parliamentarians’ attention for protection and support.

"Some of the renowned Parliamentarians, who have always prioritised the needs of the vulnerable...however, politics demands that they stand right here in the Well and attract attention towards the issue which they feel fit," Irani said.

The minister elaborated on the Bill saying that adoption of a child is a legal process that creates a permanent legal relationship between the child and adoptive parents. Therefore, it may be questioned whether it is appropriate to vest the power to issue adoption orders with the district magistrate instead of a civil court.

As of July 2018, there were 629 adoption cases pending in various courts. In order to expedite adoption proceedings, the Bill transfers the power to issue adoption orders to the district magistrate. An issue to consider is whether the level of pendency justifies shifting the load to the district magistrate.

The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (2015) had noted that various statutory bodies under the Act were not present in many states. As of 2019 only 17 of 35 states/Union Territories had all basic structures and bodies required under the Act in all districts.

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