Sampurna Behrua vs UoI: The battle for juvenile justice concludes after 12 years
The Supreme Court on February 9, 2018, delivered a judgement in the Sampurna Behrua vs Union of India & Ors, listing numerous suggestions for state and central governments and other relevant players to improve the condition of juvenile justice in the country.
The PIL, which was filed by HRLN on the behalf of Sampurna Behrua, a social activist, had been going on for the past 12 years since 2005. It pertained to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 – which has since been repealed – and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2015.
The writ petition drew attention to the failure of the state governments to implement the provisions of the Act and the truly horrific conditions in Homes for children across the country. It noted, for instance, that the special juvenile home for boys at Hoshiyarpur and observation home for boys at Faridkot in Punjab were analogous to prisons, with uniformed and armed policemen standing guard. In an observation home in Beed in Maharashtra, the petition said, children were kept confined to a cell and were only allowed to relieve themselves in the cell in a plastic bottle. In homes in Mujaffarpur and Darbhanga in Bihar, the children were forced to cook their own food and clean their utensils since no cook had been appointed and the children had no option but to starve if they did not cook. These homes also had only one toilet with snakes freely wandering around. Further, the Mujaffarpur home did not have regular electricity.
These cases illustrated the violation of children’s right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Cand other statutory rights under the JJ Act.
In the course of the case, the court admitted numerous affidavits and reports from the petitioner, the respondent states, the ministry of women and child development (MWCD), NALSA and the Additional Solicitor General to ascertain the scope of the work that remained to be done to defend the rights of children in India.
Senior Supreme Court advocate Colin Gonsalves, who represented Sampurna Behrua in court, said, “We are very happy that Sampurna Behrua has come to an end. I, personally, am quite relieved because we have conducted this case for the last 12 years. It has been an uphill task to get the government to implement the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. When we started, even though JJ Boards and CWCs – which are the alternatives to jail for a juvenile – were supposed to exist in every district, there were hardly any present. Therefore, it was not uncommon to find children lodged in jails with hardened criminals.
This journey is not yet complete because there are still many gaps in the whole system, but you now have proper institutions where the police is being sensitised, legal aid lawyers are being trained, training manuals are being published, monitoring and supervision is being done and by and large, children are being sent to these institutions. Although, you will still find many children, particularly in Kashmir, in jails, there too, the high court has started shifting them out of jails. So it’s a journey that is half over, and a timewill come again when someone will file a public interest litigation to try and overcome the gaps in implementation that still exist. But I’m very relieved now that this has ended.”
In its lengthy judgement, the court hoped that the MWCD in the central and state governments would ensure that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) performed optimally. It also said that the constitution of State Child Protection Society and District Child Protection Units needed to include the police and members of civil societies.
Further, it said that it is “high time that every district in every state must have a Juvenile Justice Board” that is well-staffed with properly trained personnel and has a child-friendly ambience. If there are a large number of inquiries pending, the court added, ‘it is the obligation of the JJB to sit on a daily basis so that the enquiry is concluded within the time limit prescribed by the JJ Act’.
The court also hoped that the state governments and concerned authorities would provide adequate sensitisation and training to both legal aid lawyers and Probation Officers to assist juveniles in conflict with the law, and that well-trained Child Welfare Police Officer (CWPO) and Special Juvenile Police Unit (SJPU) were appointed in each district.
Further, taking note of the importance of technology in the administrative functioning of JJBs and Child Welfare Committees (CWCs), it asked the central and state governments to provide all necessary hardware and software to them, and also directed states to regularly update their information on the online Central Level Monitoring System once every quarter.
Addressing the lack of safe shelters for children in conflict with the law, the court urged every state to evaluate the condition of their Child Care Institutions as well as to provide education, healthcare, and proper nutrition to its residents. The court reiterated that government registration in accordance with the provisions of the JJ Act was compulsory for child care institutions run by individuals or NGOs to avoid incidents of trafficking or child sexual abuse.
Finally, the court hoped that audits would be carried out every six months to supervise the implementation of the JJ Act across the country. It directed NALSA to prepare a report on the JJ Act before April 30, 2018 to ‘assist all policy making and decision taking authorities to plan out their affairs’.
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