Former Supreme Court Judge Madan B. Lokur called for greater sensitisation and proper training for dealing with children, while raising concerns over care accorded to vulnerable and orphaned children
Justice (retd.) Lokur was speaking on a podcast ‘Care of the State’ hosted by Catalysts For Social Action (CSA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works with children under institutional care.
In September 2013, Justice Lokur was appointed as the one-man Committee to suggest improvements in the working of homes and organisations under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 and the Juvenile Justice Rules, 2007. Satyajeet Majumdar, head of advocacy at CSA spoke to him about children who are in need of care and protection and children who are in conflict with law.
Justice Lokur said, “Many of them are kept in children’s homes, which are run by the State and many of them are kept in homes that are run by NGOs, well-meaning people. They are taken care of in terms of food, clothing and shelter, [but] the quality of care is a different issue.”
Duty of the state
Justice Lokur explained, “The duty of the State and NGOs who run homes for children is quite vast. Many times, a child in conflict with law, who has committed a crime is someone in need of care and protection. If a child robs, the question is 'Why is the child doing that? Is there some particular reason that has prompted the child to do that?' And once you get into the mind of the child, to try to understand why a crime has been committed, one will probably come to the conclusion that the child needs care and protection. Then it is the duty of the State and NGOs to provide relief.”
“Then there are children who are victims of circumstances like COVID-19 orphans who have lost both parents. In many cases, children are victims of domestic violence, there are times when a parent remarries and abandons the child, children go missing, children get abducted or kidnapped or are forced into child labour, trafficking. So, after they are identified they are produced before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) that has the responsibility to take care of the child.” he said.
Arlene Manoharan, the Head of Restorative Practices at Enfold India, an organisation addressing gender-based violence and child sexual abuse, spoke on the role of the CWCs.
“Under the Juvenile Justice Act, there is a CWC, that consists of five individuals; chairperson and four other individuals, one of whom has to be a woman. It is a multi-disciplinary body where a teacher, a doctor, a social worker, or counselor, persons with relevant experience for a minimum of seven years and even psychiatrists can be a part. This body is vested with the power of a Judicial Magistrate of the first class to conduct inquiries related to children who may be a child in need of care and protection,” she said.
Laws and sensitivity
Ms Manoharan added, “There around 18 different kinds of laws enacted to provide entitlements for children. We also have the child helpline, which I think is a huge resource for many children who are impacted by violence by crime and who just have to call 1098 to get access to help across India. I only hope that this ChildLine is also established within childcare institutions, within police stations, where children may be at harm by the duty bearers themselves.”
Justice Lokur also expressed concern about the lack of sensitivity towards problems faced by children and pending cases before the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB).
“There are awareness campaigns and child rights campaigns which have led to awareness and woken up the civil society and State authorities. However, there still is a lack of sensitivity. There are some Special Juvenile Police Units which are not adequately trained and some are only on paper,” he said.
He added that JJB’s need to assemble and hear cases on a regular basis because the whole philosophy behind a JJB is reintegration, restoration and rehabilitation.
Ms Manoharan also emphasized on the need to not have any cuts in the budgets for children. She said, "The budget for children in 2021 in the Union budget was only 3.16%. I would definitely talk about the need for the budget to not be lowered and the existing budgets to be enhanced. .”
Justice Lokur concluded by saying, “We need greater sensitization about the rights of children... In civil society, police, government, the persons who matter should be trained.”