Implementation of Child Protection Laws Still a Mirage

There are Acts and laws galore for the welfare and holistic development of children but most of them remain unimplemented, be it Prevention of Child Labour Act, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act or Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. That is why; the Supreme Court of India taken to task the Central Government as well as the State Governments for not properly implementing those Acts. A child is the father of the man (woman as well), said William Wordsworth in his famous poem ‘My heart leaps up’. Children are the future assets of the country and any country which does not pay proper attention for the protection and growth of the physical and mental faculties of the children is bound to suffer in the long run.

Child, as defined under various Acts, ‘is a person who has not completed fourteen years of age’, in certain acts this limit is sixteen years. A child of such a tender age is expected to play and study and be carefree about his or her life. But as a matter of fact, expectations hardly meet reality. Children by work or by force are employed to work in the harsh conditions and atmosphere which become a threat to their life. Such children mostly remain underdeveloped, their mental and physical development also remains incomplete. The Supreme Court has asked various governments what citizen can do if the state pays no attention to his and her fundamental or human statutory rights, nor takes the serious interest in fulfilling constitutional obligations. What if the citizen is a voiceless child or someone whose voice cannot be heard over the din of governance?

No one has any doubt that it is time for the State to strongly and proactively acknowledge that even children in our country have fundamental rights and human rights and they need to be enforced equally strongly. In 2015, the issue of strengthening the juvenile justice system was discussed at the Chief Justices’ Conference wherein it was resolved that High Courts shall continue to take all steps necessary, including evolving ways to ensure greater sensitivity, to effectively deal with cases in the field of Juvenile Justice in their respective States. The High Courts should ensure that constitution of Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees are in place, that visits are regularly made to the Juvenile Homes, Special Homes, Observation Homes, Shelter Homes and Rescue Centres etc. and that such homes are set up wherever they have not already been set up. It shall also be ensured that the requisite facilities are provided as per the Standards, Rules, Policies and Guidelines in all such Homes/Centres.

Notwithstanding nudging by the judiciary, judicial ‘activism’ and criticism of it, over the last decade or so, State Governments and Union Territories have not fully complied with the provisions of a law solemnly enacted by Parliament for the benefit of children. In many instances, only cosmetic changes have been introduced at the ground level with the result that voiceless children continue to be subjects of official apathy. The overall picture relating to the recognition of the rights of children and their realization is far from satisfactory and remains gloomy as we continue to trudge along the long and winding road.

The Supreme Court in Sampurna Behura v. Union of India and others has now again said that the State Governments have miserably failed to implement even already enacted laws like the establishment of Child Welfare Committees, Juvenile Justice Boards, Special Juvenile Police Units, establishment of appropriate Homes for children in need of care and protection, improving the living conditions of juveniles in conflict with law, medical facilities for children in the custody of the State and several other human rights issues.

In Sheela Barse II v. Union of India the Supreme Court has said that the nation‘s children are a supremely important asset. Their nurture and solicitude are our responsibility. Children‘s programmes should find a prominent part in our national plans for the development of human resources, so that our children grow up to become robust citizens, physically fit, mentally alert and morally healthy, endowed with the skill and motivations needed by society. The Court has emphasized that Juvenile Courts should be set up in each district and there must be a special cadre of Magistrates who are suitably trained for dealing with cases against children.

Child-related laws enacted by Parliament provide for two extremely important policy and decision-making institutions in respect of children and child rights, namely the NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights) and the SCPCR (State Commission for Protection of Child Rights. It will be seen from the above that both the NCPCR and the SCPCR have a range and variety of functions to perform and each one of them entails a great deal of responsibility. The court has ordered that the absence of any clear-cut guidelines on who should be appointed to these two bodies, the State Governments have found an easy way out by appointing Government officials only and leaving out members of civil society. The selection of social workers as members of the JJB should be based on their experience – practical and professional. There is, therefore, a heavy responsibility on the social workers to make a meaningful contribution during the course of an enquiry and also at the time of its disposition.

The Supreme Court has underlined the use of technology is extremely important not only for the effective functioning of the JJBs and CWCs, but also to deal with issues that would arise from time to time concerning the tracing and tracking of missing children, the rescue of children working in hazardous industries, trafficked children, children who leave the Child Care Institutions, victims of child sexual abuse and follow-up action, among several other requirements. It is well-known that our country is a technological power-house and if we are unable to take advantage of the resources available with us and fully utilize the benefits of technology through computers and the internet for the benefit of children, our status as a technological power-house would be in jeopardy and would remain only on paper.

With regard to the Police generally, it was noted that due to the policy of rotation, it often happens that soon after a police officer completes his or her training that officer is transferred out to another department. This is a waste of effort and one of the ways of resolving problems arising out of transfers is for every State Police Academy to conduct regular training programmes under the guidance of senior police officials of the State and for the State Government to optimally utilize the services of its officers.

There is a lot to be said with regard to Child Care Institutions. Many of them are housed in run-down buildings and are hardly conducive to comfortable living even to a minimum degree. State Governments must appreciate that they are not doing any charity by putting up children in Child Care Institutions – they are merely performing their statutory and constitutional obligations. There is, therefore, an urgent need to make an evaluation and assessment of all the Child Care Institutions in every State to ascertain their condition, the infrastructure requirements and staffing requirements. The obligation of society is to provide solace and comfort to these children and adherence to the minimum standards of care.

The Supreme Court passed certain instructions to be followed by the Central as well as State governments like; the Ministry of Women and Child Development in the Government of India and the State Governments should ensure that all positions in the NCPCR and the SCPRs are filled up well in time and adequate staff is provided to these statutory bodies so that they can function effectively and meaningfully for the benefit of the children. They should take their duties, functions and responsibilities with great earnestness keeping in mind the faith reposed in them by Parliament. A position in these statutory institutions is not a sinecure. These bodies have a very significant and proactive role to play in improving the lives of children across the country. The State level Child Protection Societies and the District level Child Protection Units have an enormous responsibility in ensuring that the JJ Act is effectively implemented and Child Care Institutions are managed and maintained in a manner that is conducive to the well being of children in all respects including nutrition, education, medical benefits, skill development and general living conditions. These two bodies would be well advised to take the assistance of NGOs and civil society to ensure that the JJ Act serves the purpose for which it is enacted by Parliament.

Since the involvement of the State Governments and the Union Territories is critical to child rights and the effective implementation of the JJ Act, it would be appropriate if each High Court and the Juvenile Justice Committee of each High Court continue its proactive role in the welfare of children in their State.

Implementation of Child Protection Laws Still a Mirage