The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 (JJ Act)1 has recognized the participation of civil society as members of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). Section 31 of JJ Act empowers CWC to be the final authority in disposing cases of children in need of care and protection such as abandoned children, orphaned children, abused children and others (refer Section 2 (d) of the Act).
The Standard Operating Procedures simplify and operationalise the different sections of the Act and Rules and point out the procedures that need to be followed by the CWCs. While the SOP is based on the JJ Act and the Maharashtra Rules, the references to the Sections in the Rules have not been made, as they are currently being revised. CWCs as role holders for the protection of children’s right are confronted with a very challenging task. Every child comes in with her/his unique problem and a context which is also unique.
While coming to a decision in relation to the child the CWC has to take into consideration several factors like the family background, the specific reason for which the child is produced before the CWC, the child’s physical and psychological status, and if any intervention has taken place before the child was produced before CWC. When the child comes into the J. J. System, it is the role of the CWC to ensure effective ‘gatekeeping’ that will prevent unnecessary entry of the child into the care system, particularly institutionalization and ensure access to services for those children who are vulnerable2.
The SOPs provide for systematic assessment of the child’s situation and makes sure that all considerations and procedures are adhered to before arriving at a decision. The decisions of the CWC are informed by the general principles laid down in the JJ Act and CRC, which is the moral, ethical and value framework that upholds the approach to be taken for children who need the care and protection of the state. These principles convey the essence of the Act which is to ensure that:
- The child remains within the family and institutionalization is the last resort;
- Every decision is made on a case to case basis, looking at the unique circumstances of the child;
- Decisions are informed by a thorough assessment of the child and his/her situation;
- Confidentiality is ensured in all processes pertaining to the child and her/his family;
- Informed consent of the child is sought in all processes including for interviewing the child, medical testing etc and the child’s views are taken into account in the process of decision making;
- Protection of the child is ensured at all stages of rehabilitation and social integration;
- The child’s progress is reviewed on a periodic basis.
The SOPs have been developed from existing best practices of the CWCs across Maharashtra and a positive interpretation of the JJ Act.