Observation homes and remand institutions are regarded as an integral part of the juvenile justice system, aiming at reforming children who are in conflict with the law.
However, over the years, these have failed to function as part of a cohesive system as most of the juveniles, upon release, find it hard to get acceptability in the society with the government making little efforts to re-integrate them.
Experts worry about the situation, given the rise in number of offences involving juveniles, including high-profile gang rape incidents in Delhi and Bangalore, in recent years.
Narmada Anand, Deputy Director, Department of Women and Child Development, explained the number of juvenile offenders have increased in Karnataka.
“Once they are found guilty, the Juvenile Justice Board sends them to remand homes. But when they come out, a majority of the children, face rejection, which pushes them to commit more offences,” says Father Anthony Sebastian, founder, Empowerment of Children and Human Rights Organisation (ECHO), Bangalore.
Rajesh (name changed) was an example of an unattended adolescent when he first came to ECHO’s notice. He had been booked for theft.
“I spent a week in Tumkur police station where I was beaten up. Soon after my hearing, I was taken to a home where there were many others like me,” he recalls.
He continued to face more hurdles as he went on to complete his schooling at the remand home. Although Rajesh was released and even attended college, his family refused to accept him.
“Now, I stay alone and work in a showroom,” he adds.
Kalpana Purushothaman, a senior professional counsellor with the juvenile justice programme at the Centre for Child and the Law, NLSIU, says there is a lack of trained staff and infrastructure in remand homes. All these hinder implementation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
“The focus is only on legal matters such as granting of bail, imposition of fines and placement in special home instead of adopting a holistic approach. This would involve a look at integrated psycho-social and legal outcomes for the child and his/her family,” she says.
Kalpana says the State needs to play a larger role in ensuring rehabilitation services, including increasing the number of counselling and mental health facilities as well as provision of vocational and life skills training.
She opines that the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights could recommend setting up of such establishments.
”The law is progressive and enabling, but implementation is an issue and needs to be strengthened,” she adds.