India has 430 million children (0-18), largest population of children in the world. While undoubtedly this is an opportunity for the country there is also a need to ensure that these children grow up healthy both in terms of physical health as well as mental health and have sufficient opportunities to contribute to the growth of country. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 48,338 child rape cases were recorded between 2001 and 2011 with an increase of 336% in child rape cases from 2001 (2,113 cases) to 2011 (7,112 cases). Even these figures are likely to be indicative since a majority of child rapes are not reported to the police.
In such environment undoubtedly children have become more vulnerable, however there is increasing concern about children who do not have any family support. One estimate puts around 20 million such children in the country.
This blog looks at the existing legal framework to cater to such children in Child Care Institutions. There are several pieces of legislation however Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 (to be referred to as JJ Act) is the mainstay legislation. JJ Act requires that each child care institution which houses children must be registered under the Act. Main purpose of this registration is to ensure minimum standards of these institutions and regularly monitor their activities. While there is another Act on statute book, The Orphanages and Other Charitable Home (Supervision & Control) Act 1960 , it does not seem to be so effective as its monitoring agency “Board of Control” is at the State level, while under JJ Act CWCs have been established at each district level. Further JJ Act is far more comprehensive covering both Child Care Institutions as well as children in conflict of law.
Problem as applicable to most legal instruments in India, is their implementation. It is reported that most Child Care Institutions are not registered. Often there are bureaucratic delays in registration of these Children Homes. CWCs do not visit and monitor these institutions as required. Sexual abuses against children in many of these homes have been reported (see Human Rights Watch Report titled, Breaking the Silence : Child Sexual Abuse in India).
Last year Parliament has enacted an Act to protect children from sexual abuse ‘Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012’. While the Act has codified several sexual abuses and now it is possible for easier prosecution however implementation of the Act depends upon setting up of the Special Courts as required under the Act, without this only thing that Police can do is file a charge sheet, but cannot prosecute. There has been some criticism too of the Act, stating that now a person marrying a minor could face charges of rape and kidnap.