Juvenile Justice Consultation for the Protection of Children in India
NEW DELHI : The Juvenile Justice Committee of the Supreme Court of India held National Consultations for the Protection of Children in India and to take stock of the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act and the Prevention of Sexual Offences Act.
The Consultations were initiated under the aegis of Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee (SCJJC) chaired by Mr. Justice S. Ravindra Bhat with Chairpersons and Members of the Juvenile Justice Committees of High Courts and representatives from Central/State Governments and Union Territories. The SCJJC meeting focused on care and protection of children, especially those who were orphaned, abandoned, or whose families cannot support; on justice for children and restoration of children in conflict with law; and on the impact of violence on the mental health of vulnerable children.
The review meeting was also attended by the Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), Govt. of India; Chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), senior officials of Departments of Women and Child Development/Social Welfare Departments from State/UTs and UNICEF India representatives.
Mr. Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, Judge, Supreme Court of India and Chair of the Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee emphasized the need to sustainably continue supporting and monitoring the needs of children affected by the pandemic, and to put in place measures, that can withstand and mitigate such impact in the future. Speaking on the issue of the mental health impact on sexually abused children, and rehabilitation of children in conflict with law, Justice Bhat stated that both the issues require urgent attention in the way such offenses are dealt and stressed the need to develop infrastructure and systems that support such children long after the legal proceedings.
Mr. Indevar Pandey, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Govt. of India, said that the welfare of children affected by the pandemic were the topmost priority of the Ministry. He gave an overview of the schemes of central government along with PM CARES for Children Scheme, that have been implemented for the support of pandemic affected children. Mr. Pandey further stated that “deinstitutionalization is the most important need of the hour and the child remaining within the society should become the norm.” He also said that mission ‘Vatsalya’ is to strengthen the focus on family-based alternative for children who have lost their parents, including through foster and kinship care arrangements, and also increase the scope of sponsorship schemes as gatekeeping mechanisms to ensure vulnerable children can remain with their families.
Mr. Priyank Kanoongo, Chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, presented the number of children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Kanoongo reaffirmed that the Commission would continue to strengthen data collection and assessments of the situation of children to understand how children who lost parents during the pandemic have access to child care, protection and other social welfare services and also to provide support to all such children.
Dr. Shekhar Seshadri, Advisor, NIMHANS-SAMVAD Initiative, spoke on the mental health impact of sexually abused children. Dr. Seshadri underlined the need for the provision of accessible mental health and psychosocial support to help children in conflict with law and their families to cope with and adapt in the face of specific situations
Ms. Soledad Herrero, Chief, Child Protection, UNICEF India, highlighted that “children have been exposed to uncertainty, isolation and grief as a result to the COVID-19 pandemic, with severe consequences to their protection and wellbeing”. She commended the Government, Supreme Court and High Court’s efforts to advert the effects of the pandemic on children, specially those who lost their parents to COVID-19. She further added that “In every crisis, there are opportunities, and COVID-19 has brought three opportunities. First, the opportunity for a paradigm shift to build child protection systems that put family at the centre and prevent institutionalization, specially due to poverty. Second, the opportunity to promote alternatives to detention and diversion from formal criminal proceedings for children in conflict with the law in cases of minor offences. Third, the opportunity to bring visibility to mental health issues, an area underreported and neglected until now”.
Mr. Justice S. Ravindra Bhat in his concluding remarks urged the States to provide “child-friendly, gender-responsive, trauma-informed, and context-appropriate justice and social services, in a manner that is responsive to the individual child’s needs, background, situations, and level of maturity”. Justice Bhat highlighted few priority areas going forward, including the need to strengthen monitoring systems and adequate individual care plans for those children under State Protection, specially those who have been restored to their families; strengthening of sponsorship and schemes and referral to prevent family separation as a result of socio-economic conditions; review social services regulatory frameworks to ensure professionalization and specialization of child protection system under MWCD; and the need to conduct a study of the implementation of the POCSO Act. Justice Bhat concluded, seamless coordination and collaboration among sectors and among actors is utmost important to achieve the desired result for the care, protection and justice for children.