NCPCR decision to send children in care centres back to their families draws Supreme Court ire
The amicus curiae said that such a direction could not be given without the NCPCR being satisfied about the suitability of the parents, guardian, or fit person with whom the child is to be repatriated
The Supreme Court on Friday asked the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to explain why it had ordered the immediate repatriation of children in child care institutions (CCIs) to their families when they were more prone to domestic violence and abuse during the pandemic.
The letter issued by the NCPCR’s Senior Consultant, Legal Division, on September 24 to Karnataka was produced before the court in a suo moto proceeding. In addition to Karnataka, seven other states received similar letters from NCPCR.
Taking serious view of the letter, amicus curiae Gaurav Agarwal, who is assisting the court in the suo moto proceeding, said, “The pandemic has rendered children even more vulnerable, as it appears that cases of domestic abuse, child labour, child marriages are increasing, and increasing poverty has led to a substantial increase in the number of children in need of care and protection.”
Annexing the letter with a short note, Agarwal said that such a direction could not be given by NCPCR unless they were satisfied about the suitability of the parents, guardian, or fit person with whom the child is to be repatriated. This duty is cast upon NCPCR under Section 40(3) of Juvenile Justice Act, Agarwal said.
The three-judge bench of justices LN Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi agreed with Agarwal and issued a notice to the Centre and NCPCR to file a response. The bench said, “Such repatriation may be done on a case to case basis but not as a general order…This may be problematic for children who have been sent back.” The court has posted the matter for hearing on November 24.
The Centre, too, shared the concern expressed by the Court. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhatti said, “Our officers are trying to find out the circumstances under which such a direction was issued by NCPCR. It is true that cases of domestic violence and abuse of children are on the rise during the pandemic.”
The apex court had issued an order on April 3 this year asking CCIs and shelter homes to ensure there is no crowding of inmates in their institutions. Two instances were brought to the attention of the court wherein children contracted Covid-19 as necessary precautions were not taken.
“The NCPCR seems to have made the April 3 order of the Court as the basis for its letter,” Agarwal said, pointing out that the April 3 order was a temporary measure to help contain the spread of pandemic. “Many children are in CCIs due to poverty or their parents’ incapacity to look after them. There are children who are orphaned, abandoned, victims of child abuse, trafficking, child labour, child marriage, and homeless. For them, institutional care is the only resort,” Agarwal stated in his note.