Priyank Kanoongo, after serving as a member (education) for three years at the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), took over as its chairperson recently.
In an interview with Sumi Sukanya Dutta, he shares his vision for the child right’s body and outlines the challenges in the wake of horrible cases of sexual abuse in child care institutes (CCIs) in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh that surfaced recently.
A few months back, cases of rampant child sex abuse were exposed in several CCIs in UP and Bihar. How do you see NCPCR’s role in regulating and monitoring such institutions?
Majority of the CCIs are not taking any financial aid from the Centre. Before 2015, when the amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act was not in place, such institutions were not even required to be registered with the Union government. The incidents of child sex abuse that have come to light are, in a way, a success of the Act brought by the present government as it has opened a window for all the filth to come out. All CCIs are now mandated to get registered and initiatives are being taken to carry out their extensive audits.
It’s pathetic that such abuse of children is happening at homes where kids from unstable environments are expected to be safe. But, it’s also the beginning of a safer rehabilitation for such children as now there will be a closer scrutiny of all CCIs.
Do you think the NCPCR, for whatever reasons it may be — mandate, lack of resources or shortage of manpower — has been unable to fulfill its responsibilities efficiently? Instances like the Muzaffarpur shelter home case trigger a doubt.
We will need to increase reliance on digital technology so that our monitoring system improves. For instance, the grievance redressal system has to be strengthened so that all the complaints and tip-offs that we get at the Commission are followed and tracked in a much better fashion and there is greater accountability.
Many people think that bodies like the NCPCR are toothless as its role is largely advisory and states tend to ignore its recommendations. Do you think the NCPCR’s mandate should be revised to make it stronger?
I worked as a member in the Commission for three years and not once did I feel that our summonses are not taken seriously… The quasi-judicial directives of the body are well-received by the states if they are enforced forcefully and we will keep doing it. The Commission will have an attitude of zero tolerance if the laws — Commissions for Protection of Children Rights Act, JJ Act, Right to Education Act and Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act — which we are mandated to oversee, are flouted.
The government changed laws to make a provision for death penalty for rapists of children below 12 years. However, activists believe instead of acting as a deterrent, it will lead to more killings after rapes. What is your view on this?
It is the job of Parliament to make laws and our job is to ensure effective implementation of certain laws pertaining to child rights. We should trust the judgment of our lawmakers.
The NCPCR has been getting a lot of complaints on fee rise in private schools and a number of suggestions on minority education. What is the way forward?
As far as regulation of fee is concerned, education is a state subject and we can only have an advisory role. But recently, we came up with a National Fee Regulatory Framework and states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have shown interest in adopting many of its elements to ensure that private schools don’t fleece parents.
In the field of minority education, we will try to push for significant changes as our analysis has shown that children going to madrasas are as good as out-of-school children and schools being run by Christian organisations don’t give admissions to economically weaker section students, as mandated by the RTE Act.
What is your vision as the head of NCPCR and what do you see as major challenges ahead?
My first priority would be to get people’s confidence back in CCIs — by strengthening the system and proper monitoring. The institutions where children are being exploited should be dealt with strictly. Trafficking of children, particularly in tribal and backward areas, is a major challenge and we have to tackle it with full force. As the government is set to bring the country’s first comprehensive anti-trafficking law seeking to deal with the crime from the point of prevention, protection and rehabilitation, we will be better positioned to ensure that our children have a better future.