The story so far: As protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 rocked the country over the last two weeks there have been several instances of police clashing with and detaining protesters. In several cases, those detained were minors under 18 years. Two notable instances have been reported. Last week, the Uttar Pradesh police detained at least five minors, between the ages of 13 and 17, at the Bijnor Police Cantonment and allegedly tortured them over a period of 48 hours before releasing them. In another instance, eight minors were among 40 detained after violence broke out near Delhi gate in Daryaganj , part of the old city (Delhi), during protests. Acting on the complaints of lawyers, these minors were released by a magistrate who noted that the detention of children in a police station in the first instance is a ‘flagrant violation of the law’.
What does the Juvenile Justice Act say about detention of minors?
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 has specific procedures and rules in relation to children found to be in conflict with the law. Under Section 10, it says that as soon as a child alleged to be in conflict with law is apprehended by the police, the child shall be placed under the charge of the special juvenile police unit or the designated child welfare police officer. That officer in turn, should produce the child before the Juvenile Justice Board within a period of 24 hours excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place where the child was picked up. In no case, it clearly states, should a child alleged to be in conflict with the law be placed in a police lock-up or lodged in a jail.
What are the statutory bodies responsible for protecting the rights of children in India?
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is a statutory body set up in 2007 under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005. The objective of the commission is to protect, promote and defend child rights in India including the rights adopted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 — with an accession by India in 1992. The same convention defines a child as being a human being under 18. The NCPCR was established by an Act of Parliament, and is thus a statutory body. The commission works under the aegis of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. State Commissions for the protection of child’s rights are also to be established under its supervision.
What are the powers of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)?
The powers given to the commission are extremely broad. It examines and reviews the safeguards provided under any law for the protection of child rights and recommends measures to the government. It can present a report annually, or as it deems fit, for implementation of these measures. The commission can also inquire into the violation of child rights and recommend initiation of proceedings in such cases. While inquiring into such matters, the NCPCR has the powers of a civil court. In addition it has a host of other powers in terms of commissioning research and framing policy for child protection and safety.
Has the NCPCR intervened in the matter of minors being detained during the anti-CAA protests?
Not directly. When the protests first started, the NCPCR, on December 14, issued an advisory to the Directors General of Police of all States regarding the “use of children in unlawful activities like stone-pelting during the protests in various States against the amended Citizenship Act”.
The NCPCR said it had come to its notice that certain groups of protesters were involving children in unlawful activities such as stone-pelting and other violent acts during the protests. The NCPCR said that that such use of children violates the rights of children under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
Guidelines of the NCPCR in respect to children’s rights in areas of civil unrest, state that police and military authorities should avoid blanket characterisation of adolescent boys as security threats and that “they” (authorities) should take any arbitrary detention, mistreatment, or torture of children extremely seriously, investigate any reports of grave violations immediately, and take action against personnel involved.