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Updated 12 April 2013, 15:19 AEST
The juvenile justice system in conflict-afflicted districts of India is in a state of neglect as a majority of such regions do not have observation or special homes to rehabilitate juveniles.
According to a recent report brought out by a rights group, 197 districts have been officially notified as affected by internal armed conflicts.
Reporter: Murali Krishnan
Speakers: Suhas Chakma, Director Asian Centre for Human Rights; Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, child rights activist and director Haq, Center for Child Rights, Prabaal, tribal
KRISHNAN: Three years back Prabaal, then a juvenile and aged 16, was picked up by security forces in the central state of Chhattisgarh, the epicentre of Maoist violence for aiding leftist extremists.
He was lodged in a jail along with hardened criminals and reportedly detained for several months. His family was not allowed to meet him. It was only after activists took up his case before the state human rights commission was he released.
LINGA: What the security forces are doing is wrong and strangely they have the support of the state administration. And if you are wrongfully detained, one would obviously side with the Maoists. If the state does not help you, what choice does one have? There is no justice here.
Several such cases of arbitrary detention and torture, instances of sexual assault and even rape by the security forces has been documented in a damning report titled "Nobody's Children: Juveniles of Conflict Affected Districts of India," recently released by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).
Suhas Chakma is the director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights.
CHAKMA: In 76 per cent of the districts, they are no juvenile homes or observation homes. This basically implies that children are taken into custody by security forces. They have to be kept in the camps of the police or the security forces, whereas the law in India stipulates that once the children are taken into custody, they must be kept in juvenile homes. So that they do not face the same situation as adults.
The organisation's research further revealed that in 197 districts of India, officially deemed affected by internal armed conflicts and noted as "disturbed" under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and over 100 districts declared affected by left-wing extremism, the edifice of the juvenile justice did not exist.
Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, a child rights activist and the founder of Haq, a centre for child rights explains what ails the system.
THUKRAL: The implementation of the juvenile justice system in the country remains much to be asked for. They are not enough juvenile justice boards, if they are there, they don't sit everyday. There is not enough infrastructure to keep the children in a protective environment. So the problems are particularly serious in areas that are conflict ridden because that is where there are far more vulnerable than the rest of the country.
This first ever documentation on the juvenile justice situation states that minors in Jammu and Kashmir continue to be illegally detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), under which they can be kept in "preventative detention" for up to two years.
Mr Chakma sounds out a dire warning if the problem is unattended.
CHAKMA: I think it is very clear for the government to understand that these children are potential victims and potential troublemakers. They can contribute to peace but also create trouble. If you subject a large number of children to human rights violations, the possibility of children attracted to armed groups is quite high. And the state needs to respond to it rather than ignoring the existence of the problem.
Ms Thukral, too, feels there has to be an urgent look into the situation.
THUKRAL: First and foremost we need to have an understanding of what happens to children in conflicts, which is very sparse and there is not enough information of the impact of conflict of children in this country. It is there worldwide but not in India. We don't know what the long-term repercussions will be in the absence of the required interventions.
In a number of cases of that were highlighted, the National Human Rights Commission has already awarded compensation to several victims.
But many argue that unless something is done urgently, children living in conflict affected areas will be deprived of what is provided to others in the rest of the country.
For Connect Asia this is Murali Krishnan.