Staff accountability is defined in Juvenile Justice Act

At a recent training workshop for Child Welfare Committee (CWC) members, at which I was invited as the guest expert on the issue of "Child Rights and Convergence of Related Agencies to Ensure access to Juvenile Justice System for a child in distress," a very poignant question was raised by a CWC Member from Uttarakhand: "When we know that institutions like children homes and observation homes are 'hell holes' where the child is likely to be exposed to more abuse and neglect, then knowingly why do we shove these children down these 'wells of horrors'?"

An excellent observation though, my only response to him was, 'What options do we have otherwise?' But when I come to think of it quite literally, what options do we have in Uttar Pradesh to help safeguard a destitute child's welfare and interest when they may have been exposed to abuse, harassment and neglect in their homes or on the streets etc? Technically speaking not many except for a number of children homes functioning as shelters for such children. But are they worth sending a child in need of care and protection to?

I would think not. Yet once we pull them out of the undesirable circumstances, why is it that they once again are laid at the mercy of the insensitive staff manning the homes which are supposed to be places of recuperation and rehabilitation for a child who has just got out of a traumatic situation. And this time round with no hope of rescue! While we think that sending rescued children to the children homes will take care of their protection issues and keep them safe from the oppressors they had faced,  do we really believe that with incidences like Shiv Kuti/ Apna Ghar or Preet Mandir where abuse of unimaginable porportions were unleashed on the childen, we are actually safeguarding their welfare and ensuring they are protected once institutionalised?

A difficult question to answer but these questions need to be answered by policy makers, they have to be made accountable to answer question like the one raised by the CWC Member from Uttarakhand as well. It cannot be accepted that a child in distress is picked up and removed from a threatening situation only to be replaced into a situation which is even more threathening and horrible than what the child may have been facing initially.

What is even more undesirable is the mockery that is made of Juvenile Justice (JJ) Model Rules 2007 which encompasses sections and principles like: Principle of Safety which clearly defines that no harm, no abuse, no neglect, no exploitation and no maltreatment will be done to a child in need of care and protection. The principle further stipulates: (a) At all stages, from the initial contact till such time he remains in contact with the care and protection system, and thereafter, the juvenile or child or the juvenile in conflict with the law shall not be subjected to any harm, abuse, neglect, maltreatment, corporal punishment or solitary or otherwise any confinement in jails. And extereme care shall be taken to avoid any harm to the sensivity of the juvenile or the child. (b) The state has a greater responsibility of ensuring safety of every child in its care and protection, without resorting to restrictive measuresand processess in the name of care and protection.

Having said that, what part of the above stipulation is non-comprehensible to "state" and its "agencies" in place to ensure care and protection of a child in distress. Why is it so that the worst instances of abuse are coming out of edifices set up to provide a safe haven for oppressed and abandoned children. When the young girls at Shiv Kuti were at the mercy of an alleged perverted care giver who continued his heinous actions for over 15 years, why the Principal of Safety as provided in the JJ Rules 2007 remained unimplemented. In addition why were examples not set  when it came to using strong sections like Section 60 or Section 89 of the JJ Act 2000 amended Rules 2007, which state:

Rule 60: Abuse and Exploitation of the Juvenile or Child:(1): Every institution shall have systems of ensuring that there is no abuse, neglect and Maltreatment and this shall include the staff being aware of what constitutes abuse, neglect and maltreatment as well as early indicators of abuse, neglect and maltreatment and how to respond to these. (2) In the event of any physical, sexual or emotional abuse including neglect of juveniles and children in an institution by those responsible for care and protection. This stipulation goes on list the number of action that can be taken.

The Rules being all encompassing in terms of ensuring the safety and protection of a juvenile or a child in need of care and protection, why this rule has been widely ignored so far is anyone's guess. On the other hand these sections comprise stringent rules as per the act which can serve as a powerful tools of defining accountability of an abusive staff. The Rules such as:

Rule 89: Disqualification of officer in-charge, probation officer or child welfare officer or case worker, house father, house mother and other care givers and staff-(1) The officer incharge probation officer or child  welfare officer or case worker, house father, house mother and other care givers and staff shall not employ a juvenile or child under their supervision or care and protection for their own purposes  or take any private service from them. (2) Any report of physical, sexual or emotional abuse of a juvenile or a child in an institution or outside, by a care giver, shall hold them liable for disqualification after due inquiry.

 But how many such staff or care givers have been held liable and disqualified from duty? Has a survey been done on the recurring menace of abuse children face at the hands of a caregiver in an institution? Do we actually know how recurrent is the problem and are those found guilty of such hienous acts bring brought to book, if nothing else, under the stipulated acts mentioned above atleast? I have my doubts.

Anjali Singh
(The author is a senior journalist writing for Citizen News Service (CNS) and is the founder-Director of Saaksham Foundation)

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