In March 2022, CCL set up a help desk at the Observation Home (OH). The OH is a temporary place where children in conflict with the law are placed after being apprehended by the police. A couple of weeks after routinely being present at the home, we were approached by a 16 year old boy (H) who was kept in custody since March 3, 2022. H was unaware of what was happening in his case, and had not been produced before the Juvenile Justice Board. After speaking to stakeholders in the system we learnt that H had three petty cases against him in three different jurisdictions.
H had been assigned a legal aid lawyer only in one of the three cases – he lacked representation in the other two. His lawyer had not filed the bail application as H was orphaned – he didn’t have a guardian to vouch for his security. Eventually we took up legal representation and managed to energise the relevant provisions in the law to close H’s case. We additionally petitioned the Board to declare H as a child in need of care and protection, a term relegated to children without family support, children facing homelessness, trafficking, forced into child labour or affected by calamaties.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 heavily relies on the role of the child’s family in securing their bail as well as to participate in their rehabilitation process, post release. In doing so, it tends to disadvantage children like H who are deprived of access to their family or their community. According to the NCRB data, 128 children in conflict with the law were homeless at the time of their apprehension in 2019. While the text of the law recognises that a child in conflict with law can also be a child in need of care and protection, in reality the system is ill – equipped to deal with these children. H’s case was demonstrative of this.