“Things are not all that good”, the Supreme Court observed on Monday while referring to rising incidents of abuse of children and women at shelter homes and asked the Centre to put in concerted efforts to deal urgently with the situation.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta suggested to the joint secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) that they should consider setting up a national body which could look into the issues related to such children, including their rehabilitation as also physical and mental well being.
“Can you think of some kind of a national level institute or a body where you can get experts from institutes like Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) which are connected with child protection. It would be a wholly expert body,” the bench asked.
The joint secretary informed the bench that deliberations were on for having a child protection policy, and said the ministry would discuss this issue with bodies like TISS and others.
“You will have to get the best experts,” the bench said, adding that “you can have such a national institute where any kind of crime against children can be looked into”.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Pinky Anand, who was appearing for the Centre, said it would look into this issue and would get back to the court.
The bench made it clear that the national body could look into several issues including offences against and committed by children, the way trial in such cases should be conducted, having child friendly courts, protection of children and how to deal with their physical and mental trauma.
“Things are not all that good,” the bench said and referred to media reports about skeleton being recovered during the probe into the Muzaffarpur shelter home case where several girls were allegedly raped and sexually abused.
The apex court also referred to reports about girls being bashed up in Bihar for trying to protect themselves from molestation.
“Are the girls not supposed to protect themselves from molestation? It cannot go on like this,” the bench said and also referred to a recent media report about a six-month-old girl child being raped.
“These are kind of problems which are arising day in and day out,” it said.
When the ASG said that they would look into the aspect of having a national level body to deal with the issue, the bench said, “Get them (authorities) all on board. Tell them, it is an urgency.”
The ministry said they were in the process of preparing and developing a standard operating procedure to deal with issue related to children living in child care institutions and social audit by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was going on.
The ASG said they would issue interim advisory to the states in this regard.
The bench said that as soon as the NCPCR’s report in received by the ministry, the same should be examined by the experts appointed by the ministry.
When the court was told the preparation of child protection policy would take around two months, the bench said that the same be circulated among the stake holders so that suggestions could be invited.
The bench also asked the ministry to ask the states to give report on existence of child welfare committee in the respective state.
The joint secretary of MWCD told the bench that they were taking steps with regard to formulation of child protection policy and on other issues concerning children living in such homes.
Advocate Aparna Bhat, assisting the court as amicus curiae in the matter, said that child protection policy was there in other countries and these could be looked into to come out with a draft.
“Because we do not have any policy, there is always a knee jerk reaction when such incidents occur,” Bhat said.
The apex court had last week said that existing mechanism was “not adequate” to curb incidents of sexual abuse of children and girls at shelter homes and had asked the MWCD to apprise it on the formulation of a child protection policy.
The court, which has taken cognisance of the Bihar incident following a letter by a Patna-based man, had earlier termed as “horrific” the case of alleged sexual abuse of girls in an NGO-run shelter home at Muzaffarpur.