The Supreme Court rightly described the preliminary findings of an audit carried out by the National Commission of the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) as “frightening”—the NCPCR had told the court, based on its audit, that just 54 of a total of 2,874 child-shelters responsible for housing children who are either in the need of care and protection or in conflict with the law—in segregated quarters—could be given positive reviews. The NCPCR audit of child care institutions (CCI) under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJ Act), 2015, and Model Rules comes after the Supreme Court’s May order.
Multiple reports show that Indian child-homes hardly offer the protection or the opportunity to reform that they are supposed to. Systemic ailments mean that the spirit of the Juvenile Justice Act is not just undermined, but also often subverted. With most facilities overcrowded, it is clear that the requisite infrastructure is lacking. But, this has consequences beyond just overcrowding. In many facilities, there is no segregation of children brought to shelters for protection and those who are in conflict with the law, let alone any segregation based on age, offence (among juvenile offenders), etc. The construction and running of the homes is under the state list—done either by state governments themselves or through NGOs they appoint, though much of the funding comes from the Centre. The Centre has monitoring authority over the working of these homes. A mapping of 9000-odd CCIs across the country, carried out for the first time in 2017, showed almost half of them were unregistered despite the 2015 JJ Act requiring them to be registered within six months of the law coming into force. The protocol for social audits and inspection committees, too, was developed only after the SC’s May 2017 order; several states are yet to conduct these. Apart from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where two horrific cases of alleged sexual abuse of girls at shelter homes were reported, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Kerala, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Delhi have failed to carry out these audits. The need therefore is not just to bridge the infrastructure lag, but also to ensure that reformation and protection agenda is implemented, and not paid just lip service.