The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 (JJ Act)1 has recognized the participation of civil society as members of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). Section 31 of JJ Act empowers CWC to be the final authority in disposing cases of children in need of care and protection such as abandoned children, orphaned children, abused children and others (refer Section 2 (d) of the Act). The Standard Operating Procedures simplify and operationalise the different sections of the Act and Rules and point out the procedures that need to be followed by the CWCs. While the SOP is based on the JJ Act and the Maharashtra Rules, the references to the Sections in the Rules have not been made, as they are currently being revised. CWCs as role holders for the protection of children’s right are confronted with a very challenging task. Every child comes in with her/his unique problem and a context which is also unique. While coming to a decision in relation to the child the CWC has to take into consideration several factors like the family background, the specific reason for which the child is produced before the CWC, the child’s physical and psychological status, and if any intervention has taken place before the child was produced before CWC. When the child comes into the J. J. System, it is the role of the CWC to ensure effective ‘gatekeeping’ that will prevent unnecessary entry of the child into the care system, particularly institutionalization and ensure access to services for those children who are vulnerable2. The SOPs provide for systematic assessment of the child’s situation and makes sure that all considerations and procedures are adhered to before arriving at a decision. The decisions of the CWC are informed by the general principles laid down in the JJ Act and CRC, which is the moral, ethical and value framework that upholds the approach to be taken for children who need the care and protection of the state. These principles convey the essence of the Act which is to ensure that:
- The child remains within the family and institutionalization is the last resort;
- Every decision is made on a case to case basis, looking at the unique circumstances of the child;
- Decisions are informed by a thorough assessment of the child and his/her situation;
- Confidentiality is ensured in all processes pertaining to the child and her/his family;
- Informed consent of the child is sought in all processes including for interviewing the child, medical testing etc and the child’s views are taken into account in the process of decision making;
- Protection of the child is ensured at all stages of rehabilitation and social integration;
- The child’s progress is reviewed on a periodic basis.
CWC is a statutory body appointed as a competent authority for all children in need of care and protection by the JJ Act. The CWC consists of a chairperson and four other members of whom at least one is a woman. The functions of the CWC are laid down in the JJ Act and have been explicitly elaborated under R.25 of the Model Rules of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 (56 of 2000) (as amended by the Amendment Act 33 of 2006). These functions are mentioned hereunder:
Functions of the CWCs
The CWC shall perform the following functions to achieve the objectives of the JJ Act, namely:-
- Take cognizance of and receive children produced before the Committee;
- Decide on the matters brought before the Committee;
- Reach out to such children in need of care and protection who are not in a position to be produced before the Committee, being in difficult circumstances. The CWC is empowered to suo-moto take action on behalf of such children;
- Conduct necessary inquiry on all issues relating to and affecting the safety and well being of the child; (Rule 8(15)) through PO, VPO, recognised agencies);
- Direct the Child Welfare Officers or Probation Officers or non-governmental organisations to conduct social inquiry and submit a report to the Committee;
- Ensure necessary care and protection, including immediate shelter;
- Ensure appropriate rehabilitation and restoration, including passing necessary directions to parents or guardians or fit persons or fit institutions in this regard, in addition to follow-up and coordination with District Child Protection Unit or State Adoption Resource Agency and other agencies;
- Maintain a periodic review and follow up on the progress of every child;
- Direct the Officer-in-charge of children’s homes to receive children requiring shelter and care;
- Document and maintain detailed case record along with a case summary of every case dealt by the Committee;
- Provide a child-friendly environment for children: Section 2 (d) of the Model rules state that ‘Child friendly’ means any process and interpretation attitude environment and treatment, that is humane, considerate and in the interest of the child. This would mean setting up a work culture which would help the child to feel at ease. This would include display of colourful charts and a few toys or games. Also the CWC members should ensure that they speak in a befitting manner to the child and avoid harsh language or tone.
- Recommend ‘fit institutions’ to the State Government for the care and protection of children;
- Declare ‘fit person’ or ‘fit institution’ for an individual child;
- Declare a child legally free for adoption.
- Keep information about and take necessary follow-up action in respect of missing children in their jurisdiction;
- Maintain liaison with the JJ Board in respect of cases needing care and protection;
- Visit institution where children are sent for care and protection or adoption on a periodic basis to review the condition of children in institutions, with support of the State Government and suggest necessary action;
- Monitor associations and agencies within their jurisdiction that deal with children in order to check on the exploitation and abuse of children;
- Co-ordinate with the Police, Labour Department and other agencies involved in the care and protection of children with the support of District and State DWCD machinery;
- Liaison and network with the corporate sector and non-governmental organisations for any of the above, including for social inquiry, restoration and rehabilitation, as and when required; and
- Maintain a suggestion box to encourage inputs from children and adults alike and take necessary action.