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'Apathy Of Authorities Seeping Through Cracks': Delhi High Court Issues Guidelines For Better Functioning Of Child Care Institutions

Nupur Thapliyal
28 Sep 2022 3:39 PM GMT
Apathy Of Authorities Seeping Through Cracks: Delhi High Court Issues Guidelines For Better Functioning Of Child Care Institutions
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The Delhi High Court Wednesday issued a slew of guidelines for better functioning of child care institutions in the the national capital and said it is unfortunate that the "apathy of authorities" is seeping through the cracks and hampering the development of those at a vulnerable age.Stressing on the need for improving existing institutions to ensuring that quality standard of care is...

The Delhi High Court Wednesday issued a slew of guidelines for better functioning of child care institutions in the the national capital and said it is unfortunate that the "apathy of authorities" is seeping through the cracks and hampering the development of those at a vulnerable age.

Stressing on the need for improving existing institutions to ensuring that quality standard of care is provided to children, Justice Subramonium Prasad said there is a complete lack of direction and initiative among persons manning these institutions as to how they must guide the children towards a better future 

Justice Prasad made the observations and passed guidelines as well as directions in an order in a plea seeking a magisterial enquiry into an incident concerning escape of five minor girls in March last year from a children home in the city and other similar incidents reported in the past.

The Court said that there is a "clear schism between the promulgation of provisions and their implementation on the ground."

"It is unfortunate to observe that the apathy of the authorities is seeping through the cracks and hampering the development of those who are at the age wherein they require consistent nourishment; mental, physical and nutritional," said the court.

The Court also observed that it is the constitutional obligation of the State Government that adequate funds are available for the child care institutions to ensure safeguarding and fostering children rights.

The State cannot conflate non-availability of funds to shirk their obligations with inefficient utilisation of grants, the court added.

Guidelines passed by Court:

- The Court directed that the data regarding number of functioning child care institutions and the children residing therein should be collected and updated every quarter of the year. It added that the exercise with regards to the children residing in such institutions should be conducted by the CCI, followed by preparation of a consolidated report at the end of the year.

The Court added that the report has to be analysed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, with professional help being sought from the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD). The findings of the analysis of the data, along with the data, should be published on a public portal, added the court.

- Individual Care Plans must be formulated for every child within seven days of the child being brought to the CCI and that the same should not be prepared in a mechanical or a casual manner, said the court further

"The plans should be tailored not only to psychological and physical capabilities of the child, but it should take into consideration the future aspirations of the child, based on their case history, circumstances and individual needs. These plans should be cultivated by the resident counsellor who has had interpersonal interactions with the child and has considerable understanding of the psyche of the child," the Court directed.

- The Court also said that a gender-neutral Education Plan with special emphasis on reproductive health must be formulated for residents of CCIs between the age group of 11 to 18 years.

"While more often than not, reproductive health is taught only to young adolescent girls as it is assumed that this area of learning only pertains to them, this presumption should be done away with, and the teachings should be extended to everyone housed at all CCIs. A gender neutral plan will not only create awareness amongst all genders, but will also incite empathy and sensitivity with regard to reproductive health," said the court.

- The Court also said that it is necessary to ensure that every CCI has access to requisite number of gadgets that can be allocated amongst the children, adding that no child should be deprived of their right to education on account of lack of access to any technological device.

However, all children must be taught the implications of unhampered access to internet and basics of cybercrime, it added "This access to internet should be monitored to the extent that it protects the children from any untoward incident, but also does not infringe upon their curiosity and sense of learning", the court said.

- Observing that access to healthcare is a must and cannot be compromised, the Court emphasized that there must be unimpeded access to mental healthcare in such institutions.

"An independent counsellor/child psychologist who is well-versed with dealing with various problems afflicting the psyche of a child must be present at the CCI on a bi-weekly basis, and should also be available in case of emergencies. As has been stated above, the category of a "child" cannot be generalised; it is a homogenous group and their different needs require different responses, especially in view of the multi-dimensional vulnerabilities experienced by children in different circumstances," the court said.

- The Court further directed that discussions can take place at individual CCIs every month to record suggestions of the children as well as to give an opportunity to all the children to voice their concerns, apprehensions and feelings.

"Flowing from the above, CCIs must ensure that children, especially older adolescent children, are given an effective right to be heard. Mechanisms should be created to enable children in CCIs to participate in decisions concerning their health, including placement, treatment, etc., and to demonstrate that their views are respected and given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity," the Court added.

Other guidelines issued include:

- A centralised round-the-clock helpline should be set up which the children should be made aware of and allowed to access in case they have grievances with the CCI that they are placed at, and this helpline should be manned by an authority specialising in child care and development.

- In addition to the help, a mechanism for grievance redressal should be set up by an independent authority and made available for children to express their views and concerns to the appropriate authorities.

- Staffing of the CCIs requires urgent intervention. Rule 67 of the Model Rules takes into account the security measures that are taken to ensure the safety of the children.

- Female security guards should be provided at CCIs housing girls, and security personnel should be available in reserve for any emergency situation.

- Measures taken by CCIs cannot be limited to surveillance by way of CCTVs and security guards, especially in view of how children are also entitled to their right to privacy and confidentiality.

- It is also pertinent to note that at no juncture can a CCI be made to resemble a detention centre or a prison; the atmosphere at a CCI should be akin to that of a nurturing home. In such circumstances, there is a need for the sensitisation of the workers, security guards and other workers. They must be taught how to deal with children, especially those children approaching maturity and are prone to exhibiting rebelliousness, with kindness and patience.

- Specific teaching should be imparted to these individuals that breaks down gender stereotypes. Cooking, for instance, should be taught to all children by virtue of the same being an important life skill, and not from the perspective of it being a duty that solely resides in the realm of the female gender.

- Career awareness, vocational training and basic financial literacy should be present at the core of such plans. Young adolescent girls, in particular, must be taught the importance of financial independence in breaking the chains of a patriarchal society.

Sensitive Approach Must for Rehabilitating Young Girls housed in Child Care Institutions

At the outset, the Court emphasized on the need to have a sensitive approach for rehabilitating young girls housed in child care institutions, considering the wide range of anxieties, insecurities and uncertainties that they may be experiencing.

This came after the court noted that older adolescent girls face peculiar challenges as they become part of the juvenile justice system "in a bid to escape oppressive home environments caused by poverty, insecurity, and by virtue of entrenched patriarchy."

"These girls aspire for better education, healthcare and vocational training, and also wish to explore non-coercive relationships. Such aspirations and needs are met with parental or familial disapproval, and in such situations, the girl's own choices and actions are made subordinate to the choices of her family who staunchly exercise control over the autonomy of the girl," the court said.

It added "In addition to the same, their lack of autonomy extends to an absence of choice when it comes to choosing romantic partners. Many of these young girls enter into romantic relationships and, therefore, face tensions and hostilities within the family structure. This can lead to the creation of a stifling atmosphere within the family which is often marred by attempts to either get the girl forcefully married; at worst, she may also be subjected to physical violence, and all of this is done to negate the girl's assertion of choice and agency."

The court in the order directed the Secretary of Delhi Government's Department of Women and Child Development and Chairperson of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, to conduct periodic meetings at least once in every three months to monitor the functioning of the CCIs.

The Court also directed the authorities to ensure periodic inspection of all CCIs in the city, adding that the same must be conducted at least once in three months.

"The report of the functioning of every CCI and the Minutes of Meeting conducted by the Secretary - Department of Women and Child Development and the Chairperson - Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, shall be filed in this court," the court added.

Senior Advocate Rebecca John was as an amicus curiae in the case. Advocates S.D. Windlesh and Abhay Kumar appeared for petitioner. Advocate R.H.A. Sikander appeared for DCPCR. Advocate Richa Kapoor appeared for the State.

Case Title: RAJESH KUMAR v. STATE (GOVT. OF NCT OF DELHI) & ORS.

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Del) 917

Click Here To Read Order 


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