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Here’s What I Observed While Working With The Juvenile Justice System

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I got an opportunity to intern at the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) from June 10 to July 8 this year. I couldn’t get enough time to carry out thorough research about the organisation but I could read a few internship experiences posted by different students and they were very positive, so I was not very tense. I did feel very nervous on my first day, as I walked from the metro station to the office. In most posts shared by interns, they went to the office with their friends, but I went alone.

The first day was very formal, and one of the office staff members addressed the new interns. After this, I had the opportunity to interact with other interns, together we were a team of six. We decided to undertake fieldwork. Despite this the second day we were compelled to do file work.

After a week of reading and understanding the Juvenile Justice Act, and discussing the choice of project topics, and the places to visit, we started our field visits. We covered various Child Welfare Committees (CWCs), Special Juvenile Police Units (SJPUs) and the NGOs working with CWCs and SJPUs.

After spending more than two weeks on the field, I gained some insight into the working of the social welfare machinery and I was able to note a lot of observations that I want to talk about.

Complex Working Of CWCs

CWCs are bodies working for the welfare of children in need of care and protection. As per section 27 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, a Child Welfare Committee must have five members inclusive of a chairperson. One CWC I interacted with had only three members as others were also members of another CWC. I saw committees having common chairpersons. Though some of the members found it to be fine, while others thought such an arrangement would tamper the working of CWC.

CWCs are linked to many Child Care Institutes (CCI) and shelter homes for children. If the CWCs are not cooperative, then CCIs and shelter homes are bound to face a lot of problems. I observed that CCIs are often not given adequate funds. They have a hard time with auditors because they are unable to produce bills. I saw the superintendent of shelter homes shelling out their money on children living there.

Condition Of Special Juvenile Police Units

Special Juvenile Police Units are special units established to handle cases involving minors. These units seek to address the complaints registered against minors and also undertake rescue operations. To my surprise, such a unit exists only on paper. During police training, every police officer is trained on how to deal with children and minors’ cases. There is no separate training provided. We asked about the SJPUs, but the officers present had clueless expressions on their faces.

So, who deals with the juveniles? It is the ‘juvenile officer’. Every police station has a juvenile officer who I saw is just another police officer who is burdened with an additional duty without any specialised training. A Senior Inspector I spoke to said that the juvenile officer is the one who is heading the case. It isn’t expressly a full-fledged rank or position. Take this for an example: If a person named ‘A’ is a juvenile officer, but he is busy with some work, then officer ‘B’ will be addressing the case. Irrespective of his position, he will be considered a Juvenile officer for the duration of the case.

The SHO of one of the police stations I visited expressed an urgent need to develop specialised juvenile cells. He also added that a person who deals with adults (aggressively) find it very difficult to deal with minors. They need to suddenly transform their character from rude and harsh to soft and calm. There are cases when a minor is caught at a crime scene along with an adult. Now, the law states that both of them have to be treated differently, but due to the absence of an ‘actual’ special official, I’m not sure if that happens.

A juvenile officer is required to be in a ‘civil dress’ while handling matters involving a minor. This law is often violated as a juvenile officer has to report to courts post his work at the CWC. This not only violates the law but also hinders welfare Act aims to impart. It also burdens the police officials.

The SHO suggested that as there are fewer cases per police station concerning minors, a single SJPU could be appointed for the entire district. They shall be properly trained and should not be made to deal with any other case. NGO workers, psychologists and social workers who have good experience in the field of child welfare should also be a part of SJPUs. Although juveniles are not supposed to be bought into police stations, I was told that in reality, they are. I had visited more than eight police stations and I observed the absence of ‘child-friendly’ rooms.  We talked to the SHO and Senior inspectors in these stations who told us that no such rooms were available. They expressed the need for such rooms.

I also observed a negative attitude of police officials towards juveniles, which must change. They said things like ‘Arre, juveniles ka kuch nahi ho sakta.’ (nothing can be done about the juveniles).

Observing The Work Space

I would say, based on my observations that though the NCPCR was a clean and hygienic place, the CWCs and SJPUs were not. At the CWCs I visited, I observed that drinking water for the members and visitors was kept separately. I could figure out the difference when I drank both. One was Bisleri while the other one was RO water. Though an RO machine was installed, the water smelled like phenyl. This wasn’t the case in police stations. The water wasn’t cold, yet it was drinkable.

The washrooms in CWCs and police stations were not in good condition. CWC had separate restrooms for their staff and visitors, but the police station had a common washroom. CWCs washrooms were usable while the toilets in police stations were not. I came across only one police station with clean toilets.

My Takeaway From This Internship

With our mobile phone in our hands to navigate our way to the destination in the scorching summer heat, bargaining with auto drivers and rickshaw pullers, it was a difficult experience for my teammates and me, and we were not given any remuneration. But the experience was worth all the difficulties. I met many people who inspired me.

Bal Sahyog is a shelter home, school, and childcare institution. Anuj Singh, the superintendent, Bal Sahyog New  Delhi, rose above difficulties to work for the welfare of children. He told us of his past work and hardships and mentioned how he had not installed an air conditioner in his office because his 109 children didn’t have ACs in their rooms. “I will not install an AC until my 109 children don’t have an AC in their rooms.” I saw him giving 30 rupees to a student who travels to JNL stadium daily for training. This act touched our hearts, and he is truly inspiring.

Mr. Sharma, the superintendent at Ujjwal and Uday Children Home (I&II) works with great zeal. He said that he remains in constant touch even with children who have left the homes after they turn 18. Senior Inspector Praveen Chauhan and Senior inspector IC Meena were very efficient officers, genuinely concerned about the children.

I met an inspiring individual, Mahawar, who left his job at the United Nations when he got an offer to be a CWC member (its tenure being three years) because he wanted to better the system by being a part of it. I also saw an NCPCR staff member making rolls of chapati and sabzi (vegetables) that she carried to office as her lunch and gave to children who had been rescued.

Many people I met and spoke to had a lot of impact on my thinking capacity and my thought process. I learned from every opportunity I got. I agree the experience was full of hardships, but I can’t disagree that it was enriching. I made super amazing friends. I started valuing time, money and efforts. I was inspired and motivated to work for good. I realised how understanding and supportive my parents are. I gained a lot of knowledge be it the bare act or the working of CWCs and SJPUs and the hardships they face.

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