Across the globe it is very well accepted that children should undergo a separate legal system as they are still undergoing their journey of development into adulthood.
Keeping in view the vulnerability of a child. The framers of our constitution have included special provisions for children under various Articles ad have also empowered the Stat Governments to bring special provisions keeping in view their local requirements for the development, care and protection of children.
The Juvenile Justice (care & protection of children) Act, 2015 has incorporated General Principles which are to be followed in administration of the Act for children in need of care & protection and for children in conflict with law.
The said Act defines “child friendly” as any behaviour, conduct, practice, process, and attitude. Environment that is humane. Considerate and in the best interest of the child for their rehabilitation and re-integration into the society.
The POCSO Act, 2012 also stresses on safeguarding of the interest and the wellbeing of the child at every stage of the judicial process by incorporating child friendly procedures for reporting of evidence, investigation and trail of offences against children.
It is important that the stakeholders working with children including the NGOs, statutory bodies- the child welfare committees, the Juvenile justice Boards and the Courts start creating child friendly environment so that children can participate in the entire process affecting their lives a victim, witness as an offender. Thus the society will be able to shape the dreams and aspirations of its children to build a healthy nation and a civilized heritage.
This is possible when the right to participation is given to children, when they are allowed to speak up their minds at every stage of decision making affecting their lives.
Let’s start by picking up each stakeholder in whose contact the child in need of care & protection and child in conflict with the law comes in contact with and try to understand how the child’s right to participate is or can be given:
- The Child Welfare Committee (CWC)- CWC shall interview the child sensitively and in child-friendly manner. The tone should not be accusatory and should not have adversarial impact. CWC should respect the dignity and self-esteem of the child. Principle of dignity and worth shall be followed along with the Principle of non-stigmatising semantics: Adversarial or accusatory words are not to be used in the processes pertaining to a child. CWC shall obtain home study report to ensure safety of the child at home. The CWC should take care of the psychosocial needs of the child as well. Child must be informed of the availability of Support persons- Translators, Interpreters, Counsellors and Special Educators as the case may be. The child should be allowed to speak about his or her feelings towards all these arrangement and people that are provided. The child should be heard for his feelings towards his family members, even if there is no complaint about any kind of abuse or exploitation. The child should be allowed to explain about the temperament and emotional wellbeing of his family members, friend circle or any other person about whom he or she wants to talk The Committee on being satisﬁed through the inquiry that the child before the Committee is a child in need of care and protection, may, on consideration of Social Investigation Report submitted by Child Welfare Ofﬁcer and taking into account the child’s wishes in case the child is sufﬁciently mature to take a view, pass one or more of the following orders, namely:— (a) declaration that a child is in need of care and protection; (b) restoration of the child to parents or guardian or family with or without supervision of Child Welfare Ofﬁcer or designated social worker; (c) placement of the child in Children’s Home or ﬁt facility or Specialised Adoption Agency for the purpose of adoption for long term or temporary care, keeping in mind the capacity of the institution for housing such children, either after reaching the conclusion that the family of the child cannot be traced or even if traced, restoration of the child to the family is not in the best interest of the child; (d) placement of the child with ﬁt person for long term or temporary care; (e) foster care orders under section 44; (f) sponsorship orders under section 45; (g) directions to persons or institutions or facilities in whose care the child is placed, regarding care, protection and rehabilitation of the child, including directions relating to immediate shelter and services such as medical attention, psychiatric and psychological support including need-based counselling, occupational therapy or behaviour modiﬁcation therapy, skill training, legal aid, educational services, and other developmental activities, as required, as well as follow-up and coordination with the District Child Protection Unit or State Government and other agencies; (h) declaration that the child is legally free for adoption under section 38.( k).the child shall have the right to be re-united with his family at the earliest and to be restored to the same socio-economic and cultural status that in, unless such restoration and repatriation is not in his best interest.
- Police officers/special juvenile police unit- Any person who has information about a missing, begging child or about any offence\abuse or exploitation of a child or any offence committed by a child can report such information to the SJPU or Local Police temporary residence, including shelter homes or any place of child’s choice in case of a victim, witness or an offender child If the informer is a child, the ﬁrst report will be recorded in a simple language understandable by the child. Police ofﬁcer will read over the information to the informant. Police cannot detain a child at night for any reason. Police will not take child to the Police Station. Statement will be recorded either at permanent residence or Approach Children with extreme sensitivity and their vulnerability recognized and understood. Identify oneself as a person trying to help o Make the child comfortable. Ask the children if they know why they come to see them Do not stare or sit uncomfortably close; avoid sitting too close and respect the child’s personal space. Police ofﬁcer to be dressed in civilian clothing. Check if the child is hungry or thirsty, tired or sleepy, and address those needs immediately. Avoid correcting child’s behaviour.
- The Police must ensure that a child victim of abuse, is begging or reported missing, and shall be treated as child in need of care and protection and not child in conﬂict with law. The child should be produced before the appropriate forum- the CWC. If they find that the child is one in conflict with law may satisfy about it and produce the child before the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB)- Where the child produced before the Board is covered under section 83 of the Act, including a child who has surrendered, the Board may, after due inquiry and being satisﬁed of the circumstances of the child, transfer the child to the Committee as a child in need of care and protection for necessary action, and or pass appropriate directions for rehabilitation, including orders for safe custody and protection of the child and transfer to a ﬁt facility recognised for the purpose which shall have the capacity to provide appropriate protection, and consider transferring the child out of the district or out of the State to another State for the protection and safety of the child. In case the child alleged to be in conﬂict with law cannot be produced before the Board or even a single member of the Board due to child being apprehended during odd hours or distance, the child shall be kept by the Child Welfare Police Ofﬁcer in the Observation Home. On production of the child before the Board, the report containing the social background of the child, circumstances of apprehending the child and offence alleged to have been committed by the child as provided by the ofﬁcers, individuals, agencies producing the child shall be reviewed by the Board and the Board may pass such orders in relation to the child as it deems ﬁt, including orders under sections 17 and 18 of the Act, namely: (i) disposing of the case, if on the consideration of the documents and record submitted at the time of his ﬁrst appearance, his being in conﬂict with law appears to be unfounded or where the child is alleged to be involved in petty offences; (ii) referring the child to the Committee where it appears to the Board that the child is in need of care and protection; (iii) releasing the child in the supervision or custody of ﬁt persons or ﬁt institutions or Probation Ofﬁcers as the case may be, through an order in Form 3, with a direction to appear or present a child for an inquiry on the next date; and (iv) directing the child to be kept in the Child Care Institution, as appropriate, if necessary, pending inquiry as per order in Form 4. ) The Board shall in the ﬁrst instance determine whether the child is of sixteen years of age or above; if not, it shall proceed as per provisions of section 14 of the Act. (2) For the purpose of conducting a preliminary assessment in case of heinous offences, the Board may take the assistance of psychologists or psycho-social workers or other experts who have experience of working with children in difﬁcult circumstances. A panel of such experts may be made available by the District Child Protection Unit, whose assistance can be taken by the Board or could be accessed independently. While making the preliminary assessment, the child shall be presumed to be innocent unless proved otherwise.
I am sure that if all these stakeholders work in the best interest of children following principles of dignity, respect, fresh start and provide space and time to the child in expressing itself freely, we can hope to create child friendly environment for children in the society where their mind is without fear and they feel safe and secure and learn to trust and respect others.