The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), a statutory body that functions under the Union Women & Child Development, Government of India, has recently sent a directive to the District authorities in the 8 states that hold 72% of the minors in child care institutions. This directive has asked for an action plan for the restitution of these children to their homes.
This is the culmination of a process that began in May 2017, when the Union Ministry realized that the engagement of the child care institutions (CCIs) in managing vulnerable children has been less than perfect. There was no clear data in mapping these CCIs to locations, funding sources and management or an assessment of standards in these institutions. A study was commissioned and a Committee put in charge of this study submitted their report in September 2018.
This study, in turn, was an effect of The Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection of Children) Act, 2015, often simply referred to as the Juvenile Justice Act.
In this article, we will look at
- The principles and regulations laid out in the Juvenile Justice Act
- The findings of the Committee and the Mapping Exercise
- The implications of the NCPCR directive
- Possible ways forward for restitution of children and ways to monitor their welfare better.
Juvenile Justice Act – A Short Overview
The Act focuses on the welfare of two categories of minors
- Children in Need of Care and Protection – children that have lost parents, been adopted, have been abused, runaways, with special needs and so on.
- Children in Conflict with Law – A category of minors formerly known as juvenile deliquents, or otherwise minors that are involved in infarctions of law.
The nature of regulations is very different in these two categories, since CNCP needs protection while CCL needs protection as well as reform in order to function harmoniously in society.
While setting forth principles for how children of both categories are to be treated, the Act also includes a very important principle:
“Principle of institutionalisation as a measure of last resort: A child shall be placed in institutional care as a step of last resort after making a reasonable inquiry.”
The Act also defines the roles for different bodies and roles
- A Child Welfare Committee – to be constituted by the State Government for each district in the State. This will work in coordination with the District Child Protection Unit
- Childline Services – A quasi-Government service to keep track of children at risk.
The situation with respect to a CNCP child is to be handled thus:
- The CWC is to satisfy itself that the child in question is indeed in need of care and protection
- Explore means of restitution of the child to natural parents, a guardian or other family members.
- If no family or guardians can be traced, or if placing the child with these individuals may not be in the best interest of the child, i.e., where parents, family members of guardian is found to be of unsound mental ability, in need of care themselves, found to have criminal backgrounds, has a history of substance abuse and/or addictions or have found to have abused the child or other children in the past, then
- Place the child in an institution (Childrens’ home/Fit Facility/Specialized Adoption Agency) so that the child can be put up for adoption.
- Place the child with designated individuals – Fit Person – for long term care. Such Fit Persons are identified by the State Child Protection Board or District Child Welfare Committee based on credentials.
- Place the child in foster care – these are families who have come forward to take care of children other than their own, and who are supported by payment for their support.
- In case the family is traced, but found physically and financially incapable of supporting the child, place the child under a sponsorship program – this can be a Government funded program or a privately funded program that provides a payment to the parent(s) or extended family of the child to supplement their income.
- Place the child for an extended period in an institution only if the child is found to require medical attention, psychiatric and psychological support such as need-based counselling, occupational therapy and behaviour modification therapy.
It is quite clear from this reading of the Act that the primary purpose of the Act is to ensure that children grow up in a family home environment, in individual care, and are to be placed in institutional care only as a temporary measure or if they have a physiological or psychological condition that warrants it.
The Act itself is available for reading at the Ministry’s website.
Report of Committee and National Mapping Exercise
The Committee found 9589 Homes in all, of which the 66% are Children Homes. 91% of all Children Homes were being run by NGOs. Further, of the 336 Special Adoption Agencies, 80% were run by NGOs. Between Tamil Nadu (1647), Maharashtra (1284) and Kerala (1242), these three States account for 43.5% of all homes. On the other hand, there are States and Union Territories without a single Observation Home or a Special Adoption Agency, which leaves no means of placing children in a family environment.
In these Homes, the following is the break up of children that are resident
- 7422 children in conflict with law
- 370227 Children in Need of Care and Protection of whom
- 5,931 orphan, abandoned, surrendered children below the age of 0-6 years – these children can be prioritized for adoption
- 50267 orphan, abandoned and surrendered children in the age-group of 7-18 years – these children are beyond the age of adoption and must be placed in foster care.
- 1575 victims of child abuse and 189 victims of child pornography – these children need specialized care top help them recover from physiological and psychological difficulties.
- This leaves a total of more than 3 lakh children who are children from single parent homes, runaways and so on. We can safely assume that a vast majority of these children need restitution to the homes of parents and guardians.
While these numbers show a gross picture, the Committee has also engaged in a wide survey of conditions on the ground. Their findings have shown that many of these Homes suffer form a serious lack of security, sufficient means of protecting children, educational and recreational facilities. The Committee’s Report also paints a picture of very poor financial reporting and auditing standards. Possibilities of misconduct and financial misappropriation on the part of the Home management is very high. For instance, it is quite possible that a Home receives funding from the Government, while resorting to domestic CSR and foreign FCRA funds as well.
While analysing the Homes on record, the Committee also has shared this disturbing situation where many of the Homes are not even registered under the Juvenile Justice Act, despite the Act having been in force for 3 years, at the time of submission of the report.
When we look at the number of children, Tamil Nadu shows the most cause for concern among all States and Union Territories, with 87866 CCL and CCNP children in 1647 Homes. This gives an occupancy rate of roughly 50 children per Home. Across India, the average is 39 children accommodated per Home.
In 2018, Kerala’s Homes announced their inability to comply with norms. In February 2019, 597 Kerala NGOs went to court to try and block the new regulation to register themselves under the Juvenile Justice Act and to subject themselves to audit. In 2020, a scam was discovered recently in a State Government audit. 307 Homes received 12.53 crores from the State Government, claiming to have as many as 16720 children, but in reality were housing only 1333 children.
The highest number was in Malappuram district, which received funds for 55 Homes, claiming to house 6296 children, but in reality only had 133 children in the homes. It is now obvious what the reasons for this reluctance were. More than 1.2 lakh children are in Homes because they are from single-parent homes whose domestic circumstances makes them unable to provide safety and opportunities at home.
Another 1.8 lakh children are children whose parents or guardians are unfit or incapacitated to provide for them. According to a 2005 NHRC Report on Missing Children, 44,000 children run away from home every year, of whom 11000 remained untraced. 3800 children were found to be missing/runaway children resident in Children Homes in the survey. These three categories are children awaiting restitution to a foster home or to be re-united with their parents under sponsorship.
Overall, 3173 children in Homes have been rescued from Trafficking for domestic work and commercial sex work. More than 1 lakh children were found to have been living in Children Homes for more than a year, of whom nearly 60000 were staying for 3 years or more. This indicates failure in the Homes as well as Child Care authorities in identifying and reuniting them with their parents or in providing foster care.
These are only some facts which the author has picked from the exhaustive report. But the picture emerges in which children that must be placed in foster homes or re-united with their parents for a sponsorship, spend long periods of time in Childrens Homes. The highest number of Children’s Homes are in the States of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra. These are states where family sizes have reduced drastically in the last few decades along with increasing prosperity and availability of State funded education and social services.
Naturally, we would expect the need for such Homes to reduce. In order not to lose Government, CSR and foreign funds, these institutions have, on occasion, engaged in trafficking of children from lesser developed States, such as Arunachal Pradesh in this case. States such as Odisha have engaged in a special operation, Operation Muskan, to trace children who had been thus trafficked and placed in CCIs in Kerala. Kerala’s State Government authorities have traced out and repatriated 500 children, majority from Jharkand, Assam, Bihar and other States, who have been trafficked thus.
The modus operandi was made obvious in this case from Tamil Nadu. Bihari children studying at a Veda Pathashala in Srirangam were investigated by Childline authorities. They also gave the impression in the press that these children were being trafficked. We investigated through private sources with the Pathashala in question. These children were returning home for the holidays.
Most of the parents of these children could not afford to travel to Chennai and hence sent a few representatives to Chennai. The others collected their wards at Patna Railway Station. Upon their arrival at Patna, Childline Patna subsequently confirmed with the people who had come to Patna station to take charge of their wards and sent word to Childline Chennai Central.
World over, it is a common belief that children placed in child care institutions are much more vulnerable to various forms of physical and psychological troubles. However, the situation in India is that these child care homes are a source of income from individual donors, CSR funds from corporates and foreign aid from large institutional donors abroad.
Vested interests are using CCIs as a means of earning money and to gain control of large numbers of the young. The action taken by the NCPCR is a welcome step. We welcome this move and would insist that the directive be followed up through rigorous monitoring until State Governments complete the restitution of these children.
The article has been co-authored by expert on FCRA and foreign funded NGOs @by2kaafi.