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Juvenile Justice Law Tends To "Homogenise" Children With Different Behavioural Patterns: Orissa High Court CJ Muralidhar Calls For Reform In Approach

Jyoti Prakash Dutta
25 April 2022 8:53 AM GMT
Juvenile Justice Law Tends To Homogenise Children With Different Behavioural Patterns: Orissa High Court CJ Muralidhar Calls For Reform In Approach
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The Orissa High Court, in collaboration with the Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Odisha and UNICEF, has organised a Regional Consultation Program on Effective Implementation of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 on Saturday. Amongst others, dignitaries like Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, Judge, Supreme Court of India and Justice Madan B. Lokur,...

The Orissa High Court, in collaboration with the Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Odisha and UNICEF, has organised a Regional Consultation Program on Effective Implementation of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 on Saturday. Amongst others, dignitaries like Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, Judge, Supreme Court of India and Justice Madan B. Lokur, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India took part in the event. Chief Justice of Orissa High Court Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar spoke on the occasion and highlighted certain issues regarding children.

At the outset, he asked "how do we get to listen to the voices of children?" He said that though during the event everyone will be discussing about children, but the real concern is how much are the voices of children being heard? He expressed faith that the civil society groups which are working for children, will represent their voices in the consultation.

He highlighted that whenever we talk of children, we talk about a large group of different ages, different genders, who are grappling with life in different stages and the law tends to homogenise this entire lot as if they have to be treated in a similar way. Whenever we talk of places of safety and observation homes, one of the biggest challenges is that we have very diverse group of children and we are trying to deal all of them together. It poses a huge problem.

He said that the sessions of consultation program have been structured in a manner to facilitate discussion on these complex issues. He acknowledged the presence of expert resource persons like Prof. (Dr.) Ved Kumari, Vice-Chancellor, National Law University Odisha and Prof. Meenakshi Ganguly. He tagged them as veterans in the field of juvenile justice as they have seen the evolution of the law and have been important stakeholders in the entire arena. Apart from that, he recognised their first-hand experience in dealing with children in their respective educational institutions.

Further, he appreciated the participation of Dr. Harish Shetty, Psychiatrist in the Symbiosis Law School, Pune and Dr. Anindita Pujari, Advocate, Supreme Court of India. He expressed hope that they will bring their rich experience of working with children to the consultation program.

Apart from the issue of listening to children, Justice Muralidhar said, we have child-activists amongst the children population. India has its own versions of Malala or Greta Thunberg. He said that in this arena of discussions of Juvenile Justice Act, we must encourage children's voices and find out how they would like to be treated. We have a tendency to treat all kind of behaviours in a similar fashion. So, as a result 'real criminal behaviour' is equated with different 'non-conforming behaviours'.

A rebellious child, a child who is experimenting, a child who is adventurous, a child who is experimenting with romance, all of these are treated as a crime under the law and its important for us how we can separate these things so as the Act serves the purpose for which it is meant for and does not a become a 'tool for oppression'.

He stressed that observation homes that we have, we have to see how they should be structured so as to serve the purpose of rehabilitating children and if the present structure does not enable it then how can we change the same. He said, we should not be afraid to ask for changes. We will have to see whether we can change the structure to make it more child-friendly, more purposeful and meaningful for children.

He added, we are looking at stray-children, children in conflict with the law, children in need of care and protection and we are looking at all range of children. Therefore, he said, that the consultation program is a wonderful opportunity for all to come together and to come up with something meaningful for children.

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