“Why are there not 11 homes for 11 districts? I knew a boy who is a man now and has a child. His child keeps asking him: ‘Papa aap bachchon kay court mein kya karne jaatey ho?” says a Welfare Officer at one of the observation homes

After the recent violence in Majnu ka Tila by juveniles, certain questions have been raised about the lack of proper amenities provided to the inmates in such institutions.

Those working in the field of childcare and reformation insist that a number of changes are needed to improve the working of observation homes and to make them more liveable.

The Superintendent of one of the observation homes said: “The story of the Juvenile Justice Act is one of broken promises and dashed hopes. All too often the Act is implemented inefficiently or not at all. This is primarily because the legislation is enacted by the Union Government, while the implementation is the responsibility of the State and local administration.”

The Superintendent insisted that under the Act, juveniles should be treated by the justice system in a manner consistent with their rights, inherent dignity as human beings and one which takes into account their needs and targets their reform.

“Observation Homes serve as temporary holding facilities for juveniles who are held by the police or found living in neglect. Juveniles ‘in conflict with law’ remain there awaiting trial; if convicted, they are institutionalised in special homes. Those ‘in need of care and protection’ stay in these homes pending completion of a government investigation aimed at tracking down their parents and collecting information about their family background. If the parents are dead, untraceable, unfit, or simply unwilling to take the child back, the Juvenile Welfare Board arranges for the young inmate’s placement in a juvenile home, where the government is responsible for providing room, boarding, education, and vocational training.”

All youngsters who are in conflict with the law are presented before the Juvenile Justice Board. There are two such functioning bodies in Delhi. After they are produced before the board, the Magistrate weighs the gravity of the actions of the juvenile and either grants him parole or sends him to the observation home awaiting more information from investigating officers.

The rationale at all times for the Magistrate is reformation and not punishment — the spirit of the Juvenile Justice Act is reformative and not punitive. Each juvenile institution is mandated by the Delhi State Rules to have a committee that looks into the functioning of these homes.

The committee also helps the youngsters share their grievances with the senior management of the homes and it is also mandated that the senior management be present during all of the committee’s meetings.

The Welfare Officer at one of the observation homes was firm in his view that probation services need to be strengthened to solve the problems of indiscipline that are often reported at these centres.

“Creating and strengthening a protective environment for the juveniles requires many levels of engagement, which in turn demand dialogue and coordination based on a shared analysis. There is an immediate need to strengthen the probation services. Once the youngster is out on bail, follow ups should be done to ensure his reformation. Reports from these probation officers should be sent to the Magistrates. We can ensure community-based restoration and reform only if we have an effective juvenile to probation officer ratio,” he said.

According to him, trials go on for months. There are not enough courts to hear the cases. And not enough observation homes to accommodate the youngsters.

“Why are there not 11 homes for 11 districts? I knew a boy who is a man now and has a child. His child keeps asking him: ‘Papa aap bachchon kay court mein kya karne jaatey ho?’ [Papa what do you still go to the children’s court for?],” the Welfare Officer quipped.

The issue of children mixing with older juveniles is also a serious concern.

“There are children who stay in Tihar for months and then come here if their age isn’t determined correctly. How do we ensure that those who have been to an adult jail will not influence the younger lot staying here?”

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