INDIA: Reporting of child abuse to be mandatory?

[NEW DELHI, 28 July 2009] - Teachers, doctors and other caregivers could soon report child abuse to authorities, if the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has its way.

The commission — in its review of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act — has recommended far-reaching changes that include mandatory reporting of child abuse, moving children to observation homes only as a last resort and treating all children — whether in conflict with law or in need of care and protection — equally. The report has been submitted to the PMO and the women and child development ministry.

Recognising that under the law, there is no mechanism to report suspected child abuse, the commission has recommended that reporting by professionals like doctors, teachers, nurses and police working with children be made mandatory. The JJ Act addresses juveniles in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. Experts feel that one of the failures of the JJ system relates to the entrenched criminalisation and institutionalisation of children.

The NCPCR report said this was reflected in the pervasive violation of children’s fundamental rights in every step of a child’s contact with the JJ system.

The commission said there was a fundamental lack of recognition within the JJ system that children in conflict with law were in need of care and protection while children in need of care and protection were also at risk of becoming children in conflict with law. It added that all ‘at risk’ children could potentially end up under the JJ system. The commission has also sought recognition that children who are being trafficked and children who are displaced either due to civil unrest or natural disasters also need protection.

The report also advocated de-institutionalisation. “Children are sent to observation homes which are like jails. The effort must be to rehabilitate them through education and vocational training rather than treat them like criminals,” Dipa Dixit, NCPCR member, said. She added that alternative rehabilitation plans like foster homes be considered for children.

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