Why Child Welfare Committees need to be overhauled
The committees which are meant to provide care for abandoned and troubled children has serious shortcomings that need to be addressed, a new study has found.
New Delhi: On an average two babies are abandoned daily in Delhi. If they are found in time they end up in the care of Child Welfare Committees (CWC). Given a new study done by the Delhi Legal Services Authority (DLSA) found that among the issues plaguing CWCs include a lack of infrastructure, poor record maintenance, callous attitude of members and violation of rules; questions are being raised about the quality of care these institutions can provide.
CWCs are quasi judicial bodies responsible for conducting inquiries required to rehabilitate children, monitoring the functioning of children homes and declaring children legally free for adoption. Out of 463 CWCs in the country, seven are located in the national capital and each committee deals with 800 to 1200 cases annually.
The DLSA reports suggests that these committees are not equipped to handle cases of ‘extremely vulnerable children who have to be dealt with great care and sensitivity’.
To begin with, the study notes, CWC members are not trained to make decisions in the best interest of children. No training and orientation has been imparted to the chairperson or members of CWCs as mandated by law.
One of the consequences of lack of training is the callous attitude of Committee members while restoring the child to those who approach them claiming to be parents.
“While restoring child to a family, committee members verify documents in a casual manner and in some cases, the child is handed over to the claimant without checking his or her identity,” the study notes.
To substantiate its observation that CWCs have abdicated their responsibility while returning a child, DLSA cites the case of a baby found in a cradle at Palna and produced before the CWC. The next day, the baby girl was released to a woman named Bhagwati, who claimed to be her maternal grandmother. The release was made without any verification or investigation by the police.
In another instance, where a girl who had eloped voiced fears of going back to her family, the DLSA report notes that the CWC seemed to have sent her back to the family without passing any orders for follow up action to ensure the safety of the girl.
Similarly, no efforts are made in the case of missing children who run away from their homes repeatedly, to find out what the problem is, and if the child is in need of protection. The CWCs are fully empowered to keep children from a troubled home for a short while in a children’s home/ boarding school with a proper care plan, to ensure the safety and welfare of the child.
Not surprised by the findings of DLSA report, child rights experts say that there is a case for the overhaul of CWCs and make their functioning independent from the government.
“These bodies have been reduced to administrative structures. We should make changes in the selection criteria of committee members and insist on their training,” says Bharti Ali, co- director of Delhi based NGO, Haq centre for child rights. Haq’s study of CWCs also highlighted similar anomalies.
Anant Asthana, lawyer, who specialises in child rights, says, “Quality of functioning of CWCs depend on the knowledge, skills, capacity of its members and chairpersons, among several other factors. With a composition which changes every three years, the quality is bound to suffer."
"We should liberate CWCs from ad hoc decisions, restore their independence from direct government control and put in place a system of training and monitoring, as is the case with lower judiciary,” he added.
The recent spurt of sexual abuse cases in child care institutions is also linked to the poor functioning of CWCs. More than 29,000 children live in 638 child care institution (meant for short and long stays) or children homes registered under the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 (JJ Act), says the data with the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development. According to JJ Act, the inspection committee for such institutions should consist of representatives from the state government, voluntary organizations, medical experts and CWC members.
But the CWCs do not conduct regular visits, citing work pressure, and do not maintain records of the inspections carried out.
“The absence of such regular inspections have resulted in the conditions prevailing in the children homes as was found in Apna Ghar,” said the report, referring to the children's shelter in Haryana which grabbed national headlines in June this year after inmates complained of sexual abuse.
In several cases, CWCs keep extending the child’s stay in a CCI for months based only on the presentations made by the representatives of that CCI. In case a child is not produced before the CWC on a given date, chances are that the committee would not make a note.
“The CWCs do not maintain proper files and the order sheets (so called) are placed haphazardly so much so that the first orders passed upon the production of the child before the CWC are not traceable in many cases. CWCs have no clue as to the number of children who are to be produced before them on a particular date. Nor do they have any information as to whether or not a child who was to be produced on a specified date has in fact been produced,” observes DLSA.
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