Juvenile Justice Act amendment could make it harder to report abuse at child care institutions

by mcdix

Experts say making these crimes unrecognizable, with the extra step of approaching a magistrate, will have a dissuasive effect.

Reporting abuse and cruelty by employees or officers of childcare facilities (CCI) is difficult. Although the victims cannot write directly due to the balance of power, most such crimes are reported to the police by parents or children’s rights agencies and child welfare committees (CWC). On the one hand, the parents of these children, who are often day laborers, do not know how to do this or are not inclined to report it to the police. On the other hand, the first instinct of the CWCs in most cases is to “talk and come to a settlement” without having to escalate the matter to the police.

With the 2021 amendment to the Youth (Care and Protection) Act that makes these crimes unrecognizable, along with several other serious crimes under the special law, experts and children’s rights authorities have sounded the alarm, saying it would even make reporting to the police even more likely. More difficult. “The current system of reporting crimes committed by staff of CCIs is already causing delays in registering FIRs (first information report), and sometimes FIRs are not registered at all,” said Bharti Ali of the HAQ Center for Child Rights, an NGO in Delhi.

Bikramjeet Singh, the CWC chairperson in Bathinda, explained that once they became aware of such cases — either through NGOs, the children or their parents — meetings were arranged with the victim in the presence of the District Child Protection Officer (DCPO), after which both the COR and the DCPO decided whether a report should be made to the police. “In most cases, we find a way to talk to the children and solve their problems without filing a complaint with the police,” he said.

Anurag Kundu, chairman of the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, added that this was a pan-Indian issue and said: “This amendment encourages such thinking and will discourage officials from reporting such cases to the police.” Ms Ali said that NGOs or children’s rights activists sometimes decided to report such issues directly to the police as it is a recognizable offense (until the amended JJ law is written). “But the police will look for someone who can file a complaint, even if they can verify the complaint and register an FIR if it is a recognizable crime,” she said.

But according to the Code of Criminal Procedure, once the crimes have been made unrecognizable, the police can only register an FIR at the direction of a magistrate,. A complainant will first have to approach the concerned magistrate to start the trial. Ms. Ali explained that most children at CCIs have parents who are day laborers and do not want to participate in the legal process, as doing so would force them to take time off from work, leading to a loss of wages. “So they are already discouraged from registering an FIR because that would mean going to court and sticking to the case. Adding one more step to approach the magistrate will further discourage them,” she said.

Despite these circumstances, data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that since recording these crimes in 2017, they have increased by more than 700% in 2019. The NCRB recorded 278 crimes CCI officials across India committed in 2017, involving 328 child victims. These cases had increased to 1,968 in 2019, affecting as many as 2,699 child victims. State Commissions for the Protection of the Rights of the Child in Delhi, Punjab, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, and West Bengal have publicly spoken out against the 2021 JJ Act amendment and even reported it to the Union government. In addition, the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Child Rights has also challenged the amendment in the Supreme Court.

Specifically, the amendment being challenged is Section 86 of the JJ Act, according to which crimes under the special law, with penalties ranging from three to seven years, are reclassified as unknowable. These crimes include cruelty to children by CCI personnel (Article 75), employing children to beg (Article 76), using children to smuggle or sell intoxicants and narcotics (Article 78), sale and acquisition of children ( Article 81), exploitation of underage workers (paragraph 79), use of children by militant or other groups for illegal purposes (paragraph 83), and the giving of intoxicating/psychotropic substances or narcotics to children (paragraph 77). The amended JJ Act has received presidential assent but has yet to be announced.

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