More than 700 child rights outfits and activists have written a strong open letter criticising a recent direction issued by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the apex child rights body in India, in which it has asked eight states that account for over 70% of children in care homes to ensure their return to their families. Removing children from institutional care, the child rights activists have said in their letter," and bypassing due process will inevitably push many children into situations of greater risk of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation."
In a letter written to officials in eight states – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Mizoram, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Meghalaya – on September 24, NCPCR directed the district magistrates of these states to ensure that the children living in care homes be returned to their families, preferably within a 100-day period. These eight states account for nearly 1.84 lakh (or nearly 72%) of the 2.56 lakh children that are put in child care homes across the country.
Those who could not be sent back to their families must be placed for adoption or in foster homes, the letter added. The chairperson of NCPCR, Priyank Kanoongo, has reportedly said that this exercise will be carried out in a phased manner beginning with these eight States and it will be then executed in the rest of the country.
In their open letter, which has been signed by over 750 child rights rights activists and organisations, including, All India Network of Individuals and NGOs working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI), working in various parts of the country and outside it, the activists have questioned not just the logic behind issuing such a directive but also its timing.
"It is a well-established fact that children come back into the juvenile justice system with increased vulnerabilities if restored to an abusive family or a situation where the family is unable to provide due care and protection for reasons beyond their control. Unfortunately, the letter comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered children and families even more vulnerable,' the letter states.
The child rights bodies have claimed that by passing such an order ‘NCPCR has bypassed and undermined the jurisdiction, powers, and functions, of the Child Welfare Committees established under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015’.
Discussing the rationale behind the order, Kanungo had in an interview to PTI said, “It was observed in south India that some CWCs (child welfare committees) are ordering to keep children in children homes due to the poverty of the family. You cannot take away the right to family from a child because of poverty. It is the failure of the State if due to poverty the child is forced to reside in child care homes. It is the duty of the State to strengthen the family so that they could take care of their children.”
NCPCR has asked the states to immediately produce all the children in need of care and protection staying in these CCIs before the Child Welfare Committee concerned (CWC) for their immediate return to family, and apprise the Commission of the progress. And in case of children who are not repatriated due to abject poverty of their families, the apex child right body has in the letter to district magistrates said that the “obligation falls upon your good office to ensure that the family is linked to various social welfare schemes and entitlements that have been introduced by the state government in this regard.”