Children’s Right to Protection – Emerging Structures and Mechanisms in India

New Delhi, Aug 8, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India)  India has a long history of commitment to the rights, equality and development of children, who constitute nearly 40% of its population. The Government believes that children have a right to protection from any real or perceived danger or risk to their life, personhood and childhood. However, some children are more vulnerable than others because of their social, economic and geo-political situations and, therefore, need special attention. Issues facing such children are manifold and include, child labour and child abuse; displacement and unsafe migration; trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic work, beggary, organ trade and pornography; inadequate facilities for children with special needs and those in conflict with law; civil unrest resulting in an unsafe environment; and lack of awareness and focus regarding family based care for orphan, abandoned and surrendered children who are without family support. Protecting their interest has been a constant endeavour in various policies and programmes of the Government.

In the sixty four years of its existence, the country has witnessed a paradigm shift in governance - from a ‘welfare’ based approach to a ‘rights’ based one.  To reflect this change, policy and programmes for children, have been reviewed and new measures introduced. Along with the policies/programmes, legislations have been in place for addressing the needs of children in these circumstances.  Besides, the National Commission on Protection of Child has been working since 2007 to address the issue of violation of Child Rights’.  The Ministry, of late, has introduced a Bill in the Parliament on Protection of Sexual Offences against Children. The primary law for the care of protection of children is, however, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 which provides for structures and procedures necessary for ensuring the well-being of children in difficult circumstances.

Despite the required policy and legislation framework having been in place to address existing challenges as well as those emerging in the changing context, programmatic interventions were limited in coverage and allocation inadequate. There was little understanding of the needs of children and addressing them was not a priority of all concerned. Consequentially, the human and infrastructural resources as well as services available for children, were insufficient and not of quality.

The situation was aggravated by lack of appropriate and authentic data related to these children; limited coordination amongst various stakeholders and departments working to secure children’s interests; in the little/no focus on efforts to prevent abuse and exploitation. Thus, whereas on one hand the existing facilities for ensuring well-being of children in difficult circumstances were already inadequate, on the other hand, as there was no safety net for vulnerable children, the number of such children was increasing fast. The need for a comprehensive country –wide programme to enable creation of a safe environment for children, which is conducive to their growth and development, was, thus, keenly felt. The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) was introduced w.e.f. 2009-10 to address this need.

Integrated Child Protection Scheme

ICPS has brought several piecemeal child protection programmes namely (i) A Programme for Juvenile Justice; (ii) An Integrated Programme for Street Children; and (iii) Scheme for Assistance to Homes [Shishu Greh] to Promote In -country Adoption,  under one umbrella with enhanced norms and introduced new interventions. The Scheme inter alia aspires to reduce the vulnerability of children to abuse, neglect, exploitation, abandonment and separation from their families. ICPS is holistic in nature and besides creating legal and administrative structures for taking care of the children and, thus, accelerating the implementation of the JJ Act, supports setting up of Homes for providing them quality care, promoting non-institutional care and setting up of a Child Tracking System including a website for missing children.

Services under ICPS

The services which are being strengthened/introduced and provided support under ICPS are:

Institutional Care: To improve the quality of Institutional Care, financial assistance is being provided for construction, upgradation and maintenance of Shelter homes, Children’s homes, Observation homes and Special homes set up under the JJ Act and Specialized services for children with special needs (disabled & children affected by HIV/AIDS. 1199 homes of various kinds are already supported under the Scheme. After Care services for children leaving the Homes on attaining the age of 18 years are also provided for under ICPS.

Non institutional care: Several non-institutional mechanisms such as Adoption, Foster Care, Sponsorship and also community based safe spaces for care and rehabilitation such as open shelters in urban and semi urban areas provided for under the Scheme. These will emerge to play a major role in the care and protection of children with little or no family care. 143 Specialised Adoption Agencies and 104 Open Shelters are already functioning under the Scheme.

Emergency out-reach services:  ‘CHILDLINE’ 1098, a dedicated telephone outreach helpline for children, is being extended under the Scheme to new locations and will cover the entire country in a phased manner. The number of locations covered by Childline has doubled in the last two years and the service is now available in 164 cities/districts across the country.

Child Tracking System:  Another major initiative under ICPS is the establishing of a Child Tracking System, a web enabled MIS on all children accessing protection services, including a website for missing children, to address glaring gaps in data related to protection of children.

Statutory & Service Delivery Structures

The Scheme also strengthens statutory services/structures such as Child Welfare Committees and Juvenile Justice Boards which are to be set up under the JJ Act to ensure the child’s right to justice and protection. Considerable progress has been made under ICPS in establishing these statutory bodies. 548 Child Welfare Committees (240 before introduction of the Scheme) and 561 Juvenile Justice Boards (211 before introduction of ICPS) have so far been established all over the country.

To ensure that proper focus is maintained on child protection, and quality of services is up to the mark, the Scheme places emphasis on creating a service delivery network, exclusively for child protection, which would cover the entire country.  These include the Central Project Support Unit at the Central level, Child Protection Societies at State and District levels and State Adoption Resource Agencies implementation at the ground level.

ICPS caters to those children who are in difficult circumstances and require attention and support.  There is no estimate available currently of such children. The picture will emerge more clearly after the structures for implementation of the Scheme such as District Child Protection Units and State Child Protection Societies have become functional. They will undertake assessment of vulnerable children, nature of their vulnerabilities and the kind of protection that is required to be afforded to them.  These structures are also mandated to work towards building linkages between existing services for children and to bring about a unilateral focus on the needs of the child within State programming.

Twenty one (21) State Child Protection Societies, eleven (11) State Adoption Resource Agencies and District Child Protection Units in fourteen (14) States, have been set up so far. Once rolled out completely, ICPS will put in place, a cadre of around 9000 Child Protection personnel, engaged in working to secure the rights of children.

For the first time in the country, such a major initiative on care and protection of children has been launched and over a period of time, this will result in emergence of institutions, agencies and more importantly, dedicated cadre of trained people to perform this task. All States and Union Territories have signed the Memorandums of Understanding for implementation of ICPS and commenced its implementation.

The Scheme is complex and it has taken the States some time to build an understanding and generate necessary resources required to address children’s needs. However, the introduction of ICPS has been a catalyst in generating interest in Child Protection issues, both in the government as well as the voluntary sectors. States/UTs are now endeavouring to build a perspective which was not done so far on the requirement of Child Protection services in coordination with the civil society and in convergence with other departments such as Education, Labour and Health.

All this will be carried forward in 2011-12 to other States as well as to unserviced areas in the States which have embarked on the implementation already. The States will, however, take time before these institutional structures are in place and become functional. ICPS has generated great interest among States and more than that, has helped creating a climate of understanding on the issues of child care and protection. We expect this understanding to improve in the future to the benefit of the children.

- PIB Features, with Inputs from the Ministry of Women & Child Development, Govt. of India

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