Staff crunch, poor infrastructure: Officials highlight how gaps in Indian criminal justice system prevent implementation of child protection laws

  • Even as political leaders call for stringent, and even barbaric, punishment to alleged offenders, administrative officials from the western part of the country on Tuesday listed out several challenges in implementing laws for child protection

  • Speaking about Maharashtra, Pratap Dighavkar, (Special IG-Prevention of Crime Against Women and Children) said that the ratio of women officers in rural police stations 'needs improvement' while revealing that 17 out of 78 posts in Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) are vacant

  • A presentation by Rajasthan’s Department of Women and Child Development (WCD) stated that there are only 18 probation officers in the state, which has 44 sanctioned posts

  • The Goa Police mentioned that they are overburdened as they have to work on both maintenance of law and order as well as criminal investigations

Even as political leaders call for stringent, and even barbaric, punishment to alleged offenders, administrative officials from the western part of the country on Tuesday listed out several challenges in implementing laws for child protection. These include vacant posts, inadequate infrastructure and a dearth of women police personnel.

The officials spoke at a consultation on the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015; Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and schemes for victim compensation. The consultation was organised in Mumbai by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Speaking about Maharashtra, Pratap Dighavkar, (Special IG-Prevention of Crime Against Women and Children), said that there has been a spurt in the registration of crimes under the POCSO Act. He stated that the number of registered cases under this law increased from 4,888 in 2017 to 5,664 in 2018 in the state excluding Mumbai. This constitutes a rise of 13.7 percent in one year.

 Staff crunch, poor infrastructure: Officials highlight how gaps in Indian criminal justice system prevent implementation of child protection laws

Pratap Dighavkar speaking at the event organised by TISS. Neerad Pandharipande

However, Dighavkar estimated that charge sheets are filed within the mandatory time limit of 60 days only in 12 to 13 percent of the cases under the POCSO Act. He also admitted that statements of the victims are not audio/video recorded in all cases. Section 26 (4) of the Act states that “wherever possible”, the magistrate or police officer recording the statement should do so using audio/video electronic means.

Dighavkar said that the ratio of women officers in rural police stations “needs improvement” while revealing that 17 out of 78 posts in Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) are vacant.

A similar situation exists in other states as well. For instance, a presentation by Rajasthan’s Department of Women and Child Development (WCD) stated that there are only 18 probation officers in the state, which has 44 sanctioned posts. Under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme, which mentions the roles of probation officers, every district should have a “maximum of three” such officers, depending on the geographical spread and population.

Probation officers are expected to play a very important role with respect to children suspected of involvement in a crime. They conduct social investigation reports on the condition in which the children live, follow up on whether they have reformed from their past behaviour and establish linkages with NGOs for their rehabilitation and social re-integration.

Gujarat’s Department of Women and Child Development cited vacancies in its Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) as a challenge towards implementing laws for children. As per its data, only 146 CWC members have been appointed out of the required number of 165. Under the Juvenile Justice Act, children in need of care and protection (those who are found to be engaged in labour, have been trafficked, are victims of abuse, etc) are produced before the CWC. The CWC can take several actions for the benefit of such children, including issuing directives to their parents, sending them to foster care homes or child care institutions.

As can be seen from the responsibilities accorded to such officials, vacancies in such posts have a direct bearing on the well-being of vulnerable children.

Other factors also lead to a strain on law enforcement authorities. A presentation by the Goa Police mentioned that they are overburdened as they have to work on both maintenance of law and order as well as criminal investigations. One of the key Indian police reforms that have often been stressed is the need to separate the law and order wing from the investigation wing. This was suggested by a committee comprising of Dr (Justice) VS Malimath and was reiterated by the Supreme Court in an observation in 2014.

Police officials also mentioned several other difficulties that they encounter during investigations, such as delays in getting reports from forensic laboratories, long distances between crime scenes and hospitals, hesitation of children and their families to get medical tests done in cases of sexual assault, etc.

Broadly, what is clear is that rather than calls for retributive justice, fundamental improvements in the criminal justice system and upgradation of infrastructure are needed to ensure safety for children.

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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2019 17:35:03 IST