From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
Mains level : Paper 2- Dealing with orphaned children
The article highlights the need to be aware of the legal provisions while helping a orphan child.
Helping orphaned children
- Social media is flooded with requests to adopt children who have lost their parents in the pandemic.
- However, before handing over an orphan child to any agency, family or person, it is important to be aware of the laws.
- If an orphan child is kept by someone without lawful authority, he or she may land themselves in trouble.
- According to the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, the father, and in his absence the mother, is the natural guardian.
- Not even a close relative can look after the child without authorisation.
What are the options to help
- First option is any individual who finds an orphan child or even any child who needs care and protection under the circumstances, should immediately call the toll free Childline number 1098.
- It is an emergency phone outreach service managed by the Women and Child Development department’s nodal agency, the Childline India Foundation.
- The second option is to intimate the district protection officer concerned whose contact details can be found on the National Tracking System for Missing and Vulnerable Children portal.
- The third alternative is to approach the nearest police station or its child welfare police officer who is specially trained to exclusively deal with children.
- jOne can always dial the Emergency Response Support System (ERSS) which is a pan-India single number (112) based emergency response system for citizens in emergencies and seek the necessary help.
- The non-reporting of such children is also a punishable offence under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJA).
Procedure after a child reaches outreach agency
- Once an orphan child is recovered by the outreach agency, it is the duty of the said agency to produce the child within 24 hours before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of the district.
- The CWC, after an inquiry, decides whether to send the child to a children’s home or a fit facility or fit person.
- If the child is below six years, he or she shall be placed in a specialised adoption agency.
- The State thus takes care of all such children who are in need of care and protection, till they turn 18 years.
- In Sampurna Behrua vs Union of India (2018), the Supreme Court of India directed States and Union Territories to ensure that all child care institutions are registered.
Procedure for adoption
- Once a child is declared legally free for adoption by the CWC, adoption can be done either by Indian prospective adoptive parents or non-resident Indians or foreigners, in that order.
- Another important feature of the JJA is that it is secular in nature and simple in procedure.
- While the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 is religion specific but also relatively cumbersome in procedure.
- Second, the procedure of adoption is totally transparent and its progress can be monitored from the portal of the statutory body, the Central Adoption Resource Authority.
Directives to the police
- The Supreme Court in Bachpan Bachao Andolan vs Union of India directed all Directors General of Police, in May 2013, to register a first information report as a case of trafficking or abduction in every case of a missing child.
- At least one police officer not below the rank of assistant sub-inspector in each police station is mandatorily required to undergo training to deal with children in conflict with the law and in need of care and protection.
- They are not required to wear a uniform and need to be child-friendly.
- Similarly, each district is supposed to have its special juvenile police unit, headed by an officer not below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police.
- The Supreme Court in Re: Exploitation of children in Orphanages in the State of Tamil Nadu (2017) inter alia, specifically asked the National Police Academy, Hyderabad and police training academies in every State to prepare training courses on the JJA and provide regular training to police officers in terms of sensitisation.
- The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) recently wrote to the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories on the issue of children orphaned due to COVID-19.
Following the Covid surge and subsequent increase in request for adoption of children, the laws and procedure for the protection of children must be noted.