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Child-Friendly courts to be established in every district – says The Apex Court

 

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Written By: Ayush Singh

In a judgment pronounced on Friday, the Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta has issued a slew of directions aimed at the effective implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act (JJ Act) and other allied laws.

A PIL initiated by Sampurna Behura served to catalyze the Supreme Court into responding to what was observed to be virtual non-implementation or tardy implementation of laws beneficial to voiceless (and sometimes silenced) children.

The need to ensure the adequate implementation of these laws had been emphasized time and again in various Chief Justices’ Conferences held in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Following resolutions passed in these conferences, the Supreme Court observed that every High Court has constituted a Juvenile Justice Committee headed by a judge of the High Court to take stock of and look into issues concerning children. Apart from this, a Committee had also been set up by the Chief Justice of India to address the issues of effective implementation of the JJ Act of 2000.

Despite these efforts on the judicial side, it was noted that State Governments and Union Territories did not fully comply with such child welfare laws.

 

In many instances, only cosmetic changes have been introduced at the ground level with the result that voiceless children continue to be subjects of official apathy…the overall picture relating to the recognition of the rights of children and their realization is far from satisfactory and remains gloomy as we continue to trudge along the long and winding road.

The Court in no uncertain terms expressed its dismay at the poor implementation of the Act.

More than sufficient time has already elapsed since the Act of 2000 was enacted by Parliament and certainly the children of our country deserve much better and cannot wait for another 15 or 16 years for the effective implementation of the JJ Act. Most of the children who were born when the Act of 2000 was enacted are nearing adulthood and many of them have not had the benefit of the provisions of the Act of 2000.

This mistake, a serious one at that, cannot be repeated in the implementation of the JJ Act. It is said that children are the future of the country and if they are not looked after, it is the future of the country that is at stake.

After reserving its judgment in November last year, the Court yesterday issued, inter alia, the following directions aimed at redressing various noted issues.

  • Vacancies in Child Rights Commissions should be filled up so that they can function effectively and meaningfully for the benefit of the children. This direction was issued in light of reports that vacancies in these bodies had not been filled for several months. The Court also noted that at one point the post of Chairman of the National Child Rights body lay vacant for months.
  • In discharging their enormous responsibility in ensuring that the JJ Act is effectively implemented, State level Child Protection Societies and the District level Child Protection Units would be well advised to take the assistance of NGOs and civil society.
  • The State Governments must ensure that all positions in the Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) and Child Welfare Commissions (CWCs) are filled up expeditiously and in accordance with the Model Rules or the Rules framed by the State Government. The Court also opined that it is high time that every district in every State must have a JJB, with exceptions for districts where there is little juvenile crime.
  • The JJBs and CWCs must appreciate that it is necessary to have sittings on a regular basis so that a minimal number of inquiries are pending at any given point of time and justice is given to all juveniles in conflict with the law and social justice to children in need of care and protection.
  • The National and State Child Rights Commissions (NCPCRs and SCPCRs) must carry out time-bound studies on various issues, as deemed appropriate, under the JJ Act. Based on these studies, the State Governments and the Union Territories must take remedial steps. Particular areas of focus recommended for the same including the number of Probation Officers required for the effective implementation of the JJ Act, given their crucial role in the rehabilitation of juveniles in conflict with the law. Based on this study, the State Government must appoint the necessary number of Probation Officers.
  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development must continue to make creative use of information and communication technology not only for the purpose of collecting data and information but also for other issues connected with the JJ Act such as having a database of missing children, trafficked children and for follow up of adoption cases etc. With the utilization of technology to the fullest extent, administrative efficiency will improve considerably, which in turn will have a positive impact on the lives of children.
  • Special Juvenile Police Units and Child Welfare Police Officers must be set up in terms of the JJ Act at the earliest, and not only on paper. In this context, the Court opined that it is necessary to clearly identify the duties and responsibilities of such Units and Officers. Wherever necessary, guidance from the available expertise, either the National Police Academy or the Bureau of Police Research and Development or NGOs must be taken for the benefit of children.
  • The National Police Academy and State Police Academies must consider including child rights as a part of their curriculum on a regular basis and not as an isolated or sporadic event.
  • The Government must ensure that all Child Care Institutions are registered. The Court observed that many such institutions were housed in run-down buildings and are hardly conducive to comfortable living even to a minimum degree. The Court noted that the Government must appreciate that they are not doing any charity by putting up children in Child Care Institutions; they are merely performing their statutory and constitutional obligations.
  • It was recommended that the Government ensure that eminent persons from civil society are appointed as Visitors to monitor and supervise Child Care Institutions in all the districts.
  • The Court also termed the Juvenile Justice Fund, as it stands, a bit of an embarrassment. After noting the official apathy evident from various States’ lacklustre contribution to this fund, the Court observed, “If financial resources are not made available for the welfare of the children we shudder to think what could be better utilization of the funds.”
  • Pursuant to a request by the Court, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) had compiled a comprehensive three-part report concerning juveniles in conflict with law across the country. The Court requested that the NALSA carry forward this exercise and complete a similar report, preferably before April 30, 2018, to assist all the policy making and decision taking authorities to plan out their affairs.
  • All authorities such as JJBs and CWCs, Probation Officers, members of the Child Protection Societies and District Child Protection Units, Special Juvenile Police Units, Child Welfare Police Officers and managerial staff of Child Care Institutions must be sensitized and given adequate training relating to their position.
  • In the interest of continuing its proactive role in the welfare of children in their State, the Court requested the Chief Justice of every High Court to register suo-moto proceedings for the effective implementation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. This would serve to meaningfully address road-blocks if any, encountered by statutory authorities and the Juvenile Justice Committee of the High Court.

Before parting with the case, the Court also urged Chief Justices of High Courts to seriously consider establishing child-friendly courts and vulnerable witness courts in each district.

The Court has ordered that a copy of the judgment and order be sent to the Registrar General of each High Court to be placed before the Chief Justice of every High Court for initiating suo moto proceedings as directed above.

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