Sensitising the state

Print edition : January 22, 2016

In 2005, the Centre for Criminology and Justice of the School of Social Work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, conceptualised a resource cell for juvenile justice. It was meant to be a field action project focussed on children who were technically referred to as JCLs. The aim of the resource cell was to sensitise officialdom on specific issues relating to children and ensuring proper implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act.

The impetus for starting the cell came from the fact that the special needs of child offenders were not quite recognised within the larger picture of child welfare. Dr Asha Mukundan, project director at the resource cell, explained: “Vulnerable children are an invisible population and JCLs are an invisible population within that larger invisible population.” Given this predicament, the resource cell took on the challenge of contextualising such children within the child protection framework.

The biggest challenge in juvenile justice is rehabilitation. “The state has no mechanism for rehabilitation, especially for JCLs,” Asha Mukundan said. The two special homes in Maharashtra were adequate for dealing with 100-odd JCLs each year but “the sustained skill teaching that the state should provide is not happening”, she said, adding that it was non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that were doing the job, and given the erratic nature of funding they often could not sustain their work.

Asha Mukundan was unhappy that the State did not show adequate interest in rehabilitation. She pointed out that Maharashtra had only two de-addiction centres, both run by NGOs, despite the fact that addiction was a big issue concerning juvenile care and de-addiction services should be provided by the state. “At Bhardawadi Hospital in Andheri, the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai allotted five floors to various NGOs to handle addiction issues of varying age groups. But they shut down the services all of a sudden. Four floors have been lying vacant for the past five years.”

The essential structure of the resource cell is field-based, with centres in six districts of Maharashtra working at different levels of the juvenile justice system. The cell provides socio-legal assistance, that is legal guidance and assistance—representing children before the authorities, tracing homes of children, facilitating meetings with families, repatriating children and doing a follow-up once the children are out of the legal system and back in their homes. All this means intense coordination with the judiciary, the Department of Women and Child Development, the Juvenile Justice Boards, the Child Welfare Committees, the police and NGOs.

The cell’s work is backed by strong research. The Centre for Criminology and Justice brought out a report titled “Status of Justice Delivery System for Juveniles in Conflict with Law in Maharashtra” in 2008 after conducting a study in all the 35 districts of the State. The report was submitted to the Bombay High Court in 2009. Taking a proactive approach, the court ordered that the recommendations of the study be implemented.

On the basis of the court’s order a Juvenile Justice Committee was constituted and the sensitisation process was started. For the first time, all levels of officers at the State’s Judicial Academy underwent training in juvenile justice. A similar process was started in the State’s police training academies.

Newly appointed and senior magistrates attended sessions conducted by social workers on child rights and juvenile justice. Proper JJBs, with a magistrate and two social workers, were set up across the State. The High Court also understood that the Code of Criminal Procedure was not always appropriate for juvenile justice and a committee was appointed to prepare a Juvenile Justice Manual (Standard Operating Procedures) for the JJBs. It was put together by social workers, members of the judiciary, academics and lawyers and is in use in the JJBs of Maharashtra. Soon many other States adopted the Maharashtra model.

In Delhi, the Ministry of Law and Justice commissioned a study on the “Status of Justice Delivery System for Juveniles in Conflict with Law (JCL) in Delhi”. The Odisha Women and Child Development Department conducted a similar study using the resource cell’s expertise.

In sum, the resource cell’s intervention resulted in changes being introduced into the juvenile justice system at the social and legal levels, with the support of the High Court and the Department of Women and Child Welfare.

The State Home Department even issued a government resolution to all police stations cautioning them against treating children without proper documentation from other countries as JCLs and instructed that they be treated as children in need of care and protection.

Lyla Bavadam

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