Strengthening measures for Child Protection
18th June 2008, Dongri Children’s Home, Mumbai: A tea stall owner from Dahisar, a Mumbai suburb, impatiently waited for his turn to appear before the members of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
Booked under the charge of employing child labour he was summoned by the CWC located in a state run Children’s Home in Dongri, to facilitate the process of the child’s rehabilitation.
The fourteen year old boy, taken from his parents from a remote village in Rajasthan four years ago, worked twelve hours a day for him. “I send Rs.1,500 (USD 37.50) every month to his parents back in the village,” grumbled the stall owner, who thought he was buying and not exploiting the boy’s services.
Sadly, this convenient ignorance is found in abundance in Indian society where using child labor is not considered as detrimental to a child’s well being and development.
“Lack of knowledge on child rights, across all sectors and institutions, make violations commonplace,” laments the chairperson of CWC, Dr. Shailaja Mhatre.
This five member committee is a quasi-judicial body appointed under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
The Dongri CWC office, which handles almost 300 cases a week, has evolved notable procedures to protect the best interests of child victims, especially in cases of child labour.
The members instructed the tea stall owner to initiate a one-time fixed deposit worth Rs. 5,000 (USD 125) through National Savings Certificates (NSC) in the name of the child for a period until he would turn 18.
This is one of the rehabilitation measures taken by the CWC since its tenure from January 2007. So far, a total of NSCs worth Rs. 12 lakhs (USD 30,000) have been made for rescued children.
“This measure falls within the purview of the powers of the Committee and is intended to follow the spirit of the Act in a most prolific way,” explains Dr. Mhatre who has passionately promoted this measure, which is a unique procedure followed only by the CWC in the Dongri Children’s Home.
The Committee believes that immediate relief support through NSCs is justifiable and must be universally applied by all the CWCs in the state.
“The earlier procedure laid heavy emphasis on reuniting the child with its biological parents. The parents were called from their native village to take custody of the child and it was preferred to hand over custody of the rescued child to them at its earliest”, shares Dr. Mhatre.
“We broke away from the conventional practice of hastening custody of the child and instead extended his/her stay in the Home to be able to help the child in the best possible way. During this period we can inspire confidence and faith in the child. We also provide counseling to the parents so that an amicable solution can be reached.”
UNICEF has also supported capacity building programmes for the members of the CWC across the state. Such initiatives would lead to better practices by CWCs and would eventually contribute to improve child protection measures.
Although the CWC can stretch their authority within its limits, it is but one of the constituents in the total system that is established for the protection of children.
Another CWC member Santosh Shinde explains the challenges faced by them in executing their duties. “The problem of child labour can be effectively tackled if strict measures are simultaneously applied at all the three levels; prevention, protection and prosecution. There are several grey areas in the present law that makes prosecution difficult and hence the law does not seem to deter the employers of child labour.”
The members also express the need to sensitize police and judiciary.
Acknowledging the challenges faced by the CWC in procedural as well as policy matters, UNICEF’s Project Officer, Child Protection in Maharashtra, Vijayalakshmi Arora, says, “We are working very closely with the State in order to strengthen the Juvenile Justice System. UNICEF, in particular, works towards developing a process to develop Standard Operating Procedures for the members of CWC to facilitate and ensure that decisions are taken based on agreed principles and not on an adhoc basis.”
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