--By R. M. Pal.
The provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 are meant to be implemented through Juvenile Courts, Juvenile Welfare Boards, Special Homes etc. These agencies are expected to discharge their duties keeping in mind the "best interest of the child". The fact, however, remains that these agencies have failed to do so. The Act also provides for NGO/community participation; regrettably there has hardly been any meaningful NGO/community participation in implementing the provisions of the Act.
There are various reasons for non-implementation (which is a human rights violation) or the laws. The middle class mindset appears to be allergic to the marginalised and deprived people's entitlement to rights which include child's right to receive justice and fair treatment from legal institutions. The immediate reaction on the part of our people is to inflict punishment on children who have committed a crime. This is so because traditionally we have been a people bereft of love and compassion-with no sensitivity.
It is in this context that a two-day National Consultation was organized on the subject in Delhi by Prayas, an organisation working in the field of rehabilitation of neglected/street children. Prayas runs a number of shelter homes in Delhi which provide non-formal education, vocational training, health care, nutrition and so on. Prayas is unlike many other NGO's in the field of eradication of bonded and child labour in that it not only rescues neglected and destitute children but also rehabilitates them. The consultation was attended by a large number of NGOs and government officials from across the country.
Efforts made by Prayas and other NGOs to rehabilitate children are indeed praise worthy but, as we have argued on a number of occasions on the subject of basic education, the problem can never be solved unless the Indian state performs its basic duty, namely, implementation of the provision of Article 45 of the Constitution. More than half the child population of India are out of school, and they need to be rehabilitated. The first step towards rehabilitation is to send them to school; and in all civilized countries it is the fundamental duty of the state to provide basic education to children; NGOs can and must lend a helping hand.
We may also make a note of the fact that it is not possible to distinguish between institutional and non-institutional systems of juvenile care. Also, it must be made clear that the juvenile justice system is very different from the criminal justice system.
The 1996 Act referred to above has empowered police/law-enforcing agencies and social welfare departments of the government to identify neglected and delinquent juveniles and has also provided for establishing juvenile welfare boards for neglected children and juvenile courts for delinquent children.
It was clear from what most of the knowledgeable participants in the Consultation said that the Act has "simply not been implemented properly, in letter or spirit," citing "bureaucratic apathy" being primarily responsible for non-implementation of the provisions of the Act. Mr. Amod Kanth (an IPS Officer, Mr. Kanth is Chairman and Hony General Secretary of Prayas) gives a dismal picture in his paper: "There are only 189 Juvenile Courts and 271 Juvenile Court and a Juvenile Welfare Board in every district of the country. In the absence of these vital institutions, the entire system becomes dysfunctional. In districts where these institutions do no exist children are tried under ordinary legal proceedings and both neglected and delinquent children are treated as ordinary criminals. The psychological damage inflicted on such children is irreparable and often in contravention to the law- they are sentenced to imprisonment. With respect to Juvenile Homes, the record is equally dismal. There are only 613 Government-run Homes in the country, catering to about 36000 children, a minuscule amount considering that there are 30 million children in the country desperate for shelter and care".
According to Mr. Kanth, the government should hand over the Homes to NGOs. One wonders if this is a remedy.
It should be obvious that in matters relating to neglected children and juvenile delinquents we have to examine and analyse the problem in the context of the educational challenge. It is in this context we may briefly refer to the UN guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Adoption by the General Assembly as resolution 45/12). It states, inter alia: "Prevention of juvenile delinquency requires efforts by the entire society to ensure the harmonious development of adolescents, with respect for and promotion of their personality from early childhood. A child centred orientation should be pursued. Policies and measures should involve educational and other opportunities. Governments are under obligation to make persons Government agencies are to provide necessary services for homeless or street children." It should be clear that our primary aim ought to be one of extending a helping hand to children so that they grow up as responsible citizens and do not indulge in unlawful acts. In short, the primary aim is not to punish children.
The UN convention on the Rights of the Child provides (Article 28-I): "States parties recognise the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular: a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need; c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means; d) Make educational and vocational information and guidelines available and accessible to all children; e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-in rates".
The brief discussion in the foregoing, in the context of juvenile delinquency, makes it abundantly clear that the utmost importance is to be given to basic and vocational education. In view of the fact that prevention of delinquency, not punishment, is to be society's goal, the successful implementation of one social welfare programme - - free and compulsory basic education to all children upto the age of fourteen (Article 45 of our Constitution) will go a long way in tackling the problem.
It is not suggested, however, that if all children upto the age of fourteen go to school juvenile delinquency will disappear; what is emphasised is that if only this programme is implemented, the problem will not remain intractable.
Furthermore, we must remember that depriving children of basic education
is one of the worst forms of human rights violation.