Orphaned and delinquent children suffer from inadequate attention, affection and concern of elders, pressure of being closely watched and monitored by adults in the institutions, few or no avenues for recreation and play, lack of opportunities for free expression of personal wishes.
Apart from these, they are sometimes not fed properly and are made to live in small, dingy rooms in unhygienic conditions. Often the people who deal with the children are insensitive, untrained, and not motivated to discharge their duties effectively and with diligence.
All this leads to further alienation of the children from society and adds to their anguish and frustration. Children already suffering from lack of parental love and attention and made to encounter difficult situations in reformatory institutions develop a sense of being wronged and try to escape from them. The general attitude towards such children is that of disregard, suspicion and threat.
They are treated as anti-social with no ability to lead a life of dignity. What they need is shelter, protection, education, vocational training, health care services and more importantly counselling delivered with affection and encouragement. It is therefore, essential that police officials and all those dealing with them are sensitised to children’s will.
The Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act was launched in 1986 with a view to provide uniform pattern of justice to the juveniles throughout the length and breadth of the country. The Act makes provision for the protection and rehabilitation of neglected children and ensures that legally no child is lodged in jail or detained in police lock-up. It also seeks to provide facilities of education, training and rehabilitation of children who have become delinquents or are in distress.
The JJ Act categorises children into, (i) those who are neglected, destitute, orphaned and in dire need of care and protection-. They are lodged in orphanage, observation homes or remand homes, and (ii) delinquent children who await correctional measures.
A juvenile delinquent is one who commits an act which, if he or she was an adult would be a crime. Neglected juvenile is a girl below 18 years and a boy below 16 years ‘who may found begging, without having any home or settled place or abode, or without any ostensible means of subsistence, with parents or guardians unable to exercise control of them’. They are lodged in reformatory institutions and special schools.
The JJ Act was replaced with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. This Act, 2000 is more children friendly. In this Act, children are categorised into juvenile offenders and the neglected child. Further, 18 years is laid out as the cut off age to treat boys and girls as children.
The Act makes the setting up of Juvenile Justice Boards, Child Welfare Committees and Special Juvenile Police Units compulsory. Police personnel are sensitised and voluntary organisations engaged in social integration of children through adoption and foster care are greatly encouraged. A 24-hour free telephone dial service better known as CHILDLINE for children in need of care and protection was initiated ii 1998 by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. This has been strengthened.
In addition to making provision of shelter (night shelters with proper toilet and bathing facilities), education (both formal and non-formal), health care (including regular check-ups and treatment by specialists), and vocational training for self- employment, there is urgent need for effective administrative and legal machinery for their protection from oppression, exploitation, and harassment.
The Ministry of Welfare, and the Ministry of Human Resources Development have launched several programmes and welfare measures to help the children in difficult situations. There are government run institutions for orphaned, destitute, and delinquent children, training programmes for child care workers, package for supplementary nutrition, immunisation, etc., there are also a large number of non-governmental organisation (NGOs) working towards enhancement of the plight of such children.
Ironically, in spite of the long list of programmes, the suffering of marginalised children continues. In must be mentioned that none of these efforts would succeed without active involvement and participation of the general public.