Juvenile Justice system
With the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act currently in progress, India’s juvenile justice system is experiencing real change. However, change in practice has yet to catch up to change on paper. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, amended in 2002 and 2006, is a piece of legislation that brings together all aspects of interaction between children and the legal system. It was originally written in response to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s (UNCRC) recommendation that India incorporate the aims of the UNCRC into domestic legislation. From adoption to abuse and neglect to children in conflict with law, the Act is far-reaching in its scope and intent. The provisions within the JJ Act, are intended to preserve the dignity and best interests of the child. Children coming under the Act are categorised as ‘children in need of care and protection’ who are housed in Government Homes until decisions are made on their future; while ‘children in conflict with the law’ are housed in Observation or Special Homes where decisions are made on their rehabilitation and care. The Child Welfare Committees consist of individuals who take decisions for children in need of care and protection, while the Juvenile Justice Board hears and decides cases relating to children in conflict with the law.
Gaps in translating legislation into practice
The condition of children entering the Juvenile Justice system throughout India is one of a marked disconnect between ideal and reality. The Government of India is committed to the values and principles of the UNCRC. However, the existing legislation is incompatible with the children’s rights framework established by the UNCRC. CWC has carried out a detailed comparative analysis between the provisions in the UNCRC and the JJ Act 2006. This analysis indicates several gaps a the level of the legislation itself in terms of upholding children’s rights.
On the ground, police brutality against children, abuse in Government Homes and unjustifiable periods of detention of children typify a system unable to effectively secure children’s basic human rights. In addition, a lack of training and accountability has led to poor implementation of children’s rights at all levels. Case backlog, untrained staff, and inadequate facilities are the hallmarks of a juvenile justice system that is detaining children for extended periods of time without regard to the costs of institutionalisation and the overall preference for diversion. Children report abuse by police and staff at each step in the process, as well as high incidence levels of corruption and bribery. Staff of Government, Observation and Special Homes lack any codes of conduct and do not have to abide by any explicit child protection guidelines. The deplorable conditions in the Children’s Homes have led children to even attempt suicide.
Further, there are limited ways of enforcing accountability of decisions made by the Child Welfare Committees and Juvenile Justice Boards. The lack of mens rea for children has also meant the lack of a determination of innocence or guilt, leaving children in extensive legal proceedings without any way to combat their incarceration. Overall, there is a complete absence of children’s voice in the entire procedures followed under the JJ Act. CWC has analysed the JJ Act and the Model Rules released by the central government from the point of view of children’s participation.
Activism and advocacy
CWC has maintained presence at the Government Boys and Girls Homes in Bangalore city and the Government Children’s Home in Udupi over the past several years. As a former member of the Child Welfare Committee in the Udupi Children’s Home, CWC’s Executive Director Damodar Acharya was able to bring about major changes in the way the Home is run, while introducing processes to ensure children’s voice in decisions concerning their lives.
At Bangalore, CWC has exposed the severe irregularities of the entire JJ system, right from the police force to staff at Government Homes and members of Child Welfare Committees. A few major interventions are detailed in the documents below where CWC has played the role of watch-dog, intervened in rehabilitation efforts and provided recommendations for systemic change.
- Case study on repatriation of a Bangladeshi boy and related recommendations
- Complaint lodged with Department of Women and Child Development and Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights against sexual abuse of resident girls by Balakrishna Masali, a member of Child Welfare Committe in Bangalore Girls Government Home.
- Complaint lodged with Child Welfare Committee, Department of Women and Child Development and Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights against extensive rights violations in the ‘rescue’ of 15 girls from Andhra Pradesh in February 2010.
Further, CWC is represented on a national level committee on amending the Juvenile Justice Act 2006 and submitted detailed recommendations. This is a significant space for CWC to contribute recommendations and directly influence legislation.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Karnataka High Court calling for action against extensive child rights violations in the Bangalore Observation Home in early 2012. CWC petitioned to be heard as an impleading party in this PIL based our experience with the Juvenile Justice system. Our overall plea was to expand the scope of the initial PIL to include all aspects of the Juvenile Justice system in Karnataka and prioritise them as short-term and long-term goals for change. Ashraya was another NGO heard in proceedings of this case. CWC was heard by the Honourable Chief Justice along with the other petitioners over the course of three hearings and made the following submissions to the High Court:
- A detailed analysis on various aspects of the JJ system along with CWC’s positions and recommendations
- Specific pleas made by CWC
The Court passed a final order to set up a High Court Committee to look into aspects of the Juvenile Justice system in Karnataka state in a consistent and ongoing manner. CWC is one of the three NGO members on the Committee chaired by four sitting High Court judges. Our advocacy for systemic changes in JJ continues through our active participation in this Committee.