When the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA) became law in 1908, it represented the culmination of the efforts of a ‘child-saving’ movement which sought to establish a separate justice system for youths in conflict with the law (Bala, 1988). Reformers active in this movement argued that children should be treated in a manner different than adults by virtue of their lack of maturity and their dependence on adults for guidance and care. Prior to the enactment of the JDA, a youth who had broken the law was, in most cases, subject to the same procedures and dispositions as were adult criminals. By creating a justice system for delinquent youths, it was believed that destitute and neglected children could be saved from future criminality as they would not be subject to incarceration with adult criminals and would be provided treatment and special care. The safety of the community would be enhanced by the overall reduction of criminality. These ideas are expressed in the preamble of the JDA:

Whereas it is inexpedient that youthful offenders should be classed or dealt with as ordinary criminals, the welfare of the community demanding that they should on the contrary be guarded against the association with crime and criminals, and should be subjected to such wise care, treatment and control as will tend to check their evil tendencies and to strengthen their better instincts...

The dual purpose of the Act is also articulated in section 7, which provides for transfer of the youth to an adult court if the offence for which he is charged is indictable. According to this section, “such course shall in no case be followed unless the court is of the opinion that the good of the child and the interest of the community demand it.”

The Juvenile Delinquents Act was based on a child-welfare model of juvenile justice. A central concept of child-welfare philosophy is parens patriæ, which places a moral obligation on the state to act as a surrogate parent when a child is neglected or misguided. Proponents of the child-welfare approach argued that young people “became delinquent as a response to poor parenting or economic and social disadvantages” (Leschied & Jaffe, 1995, p. 419). The state should, through the youth court and treatment facilities, provide the guidance and support that the parents of juvenile delinquents had failed to provide. This philosophy is clearly stated in section 31 of the Act:

This Act shall be liberally construed to the end that its purpose shall be carried out, to wit: That the care and custody and discipline of a juvenile delinquent shall approximate nearly as may be that which should be given by its parents, and that as far as practicable every juvenile delinquent shall be treated, not as a criminal, but as a misdirected and misguided child, and one needing aid, encouragement, help and assistance.

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