CHENNAI: The Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Chennai is grappling with a multitude of issues. While shortage of members, lack of leadership and poor infrastructure are the glaring problems, one of the essential functions — record keeping — is being completely overlooked. The lack of digitisation and safety of the records is a looming concern.
Children who are left in hospitals or on street corners are referred to as ‘abandoned children’, whereas in certain cases, the mother surrenders her child and the child is referred to as ‘surrendered child’. Any placement agency will have both abandoned, or surrendered children. In the case of surrender of a child, the parents willing to surrender should execute a document ‘Free will under no compulsion to surrender the child’. As far as destitute and abandoned children are concerned, CWC has to give its clearance that the child is legally free for adoption.
“The CWC is supposed to keep a record of all the children that are produced before it,” said an eminent child rights activist, on condition of anonymity. “In the case of abandoned or surrendered children, who go in for adoption, they have a right to know who their biological parents are. These details can be found in the case files maintained by the CWC. But, I have my doubts about how safe this confidential information is and whether sufficient care is being taken to ensure the records are in order as they do not have a proper clerical staff or adequate infrastructure.”
Dr Sheela Jayanthi, a member of the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) agreed that better infrastructure was needed for the CWC. “Chennai CWC does face constraints in maintaining records,” she said. “There have been no instances of documentation being compromised here. Yet, it is essential to digitise the documents as they have to be protected. The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) has started uploading the documents online, CWC should also follow it.”
Records, a must
Record keeping isn’t essential not just for cases of adoption. Rule 25 (i) of the Model Rules 2007 expect that CWCs maintain a detailed record of every case that comes and that every ‘closed’ case file should have a summary of the whole case along with the resulting final order given by the CWC. “CWCs were all provided with computers to digitise their records,” said former UNICEF child protection specialist, R Vidyasagar. “Most of the CWCs are underutilised for various reasons. The vision was to have a national network where all the children’s records could be linked to the larger network for missing children. This sort of a system would help trace missing children. CWCs must digitise their records because merely maintaining physical records is not a big feat.”
However, lack of an operational computer is stopping the CWC in Chennai from digitising records. “Digitisation is the way forward but it is a long way off,” said a member of the CWC in Chennai. “We recently shifted to a new office in Kellys and our computer has not been transferred to the office. The computer was not operational earlier and we have been asking for someone who can operate it, but nothing has happened so far. We use our computers at home.” The member said that the records were all kept in a cupboard and were “safe so far”, but there was a lot of clerical work, which was taking a backseat owing to the shortage of staff that the Committee needs to supervise.
Rule 82 (2) of the Model Rules, 2007, directs state governments to provide necessary human resource support for every CWC, including welfare officer, stenotypist/ computer operator, peon and safai karamchari. However, a majority of CWCs have been provided with limited or no resources to support them in their daily tasks, the study observed.
A study conducted on CWCs by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights observed in March 2013 that in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh, ‘reliable’ and ‘accurately recorded data’ from CWCs was not available. Poor case recording is one of the biggest hurdles in the country’s child protection system, presenting a fragmented understanding of the systems, it said. “Far from maintaining detailed case records, a number of CWCs do not even have a record of the number of cases dealt with by them or the number of pending cases or even data/copies of final orders issued by them,” the study said.
“The data produced is often unreliable. In both Delhi and Tamil Nadu, different data for the same period has been recorded. Documentation regarding proceedings of CWC meetings, networking efforts by CWCs, home visit records etc. are virtually non-existent in a large majority of CWCs.”
2013 NCPCR report
A study conducted on CWCs of India by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights observed in March 2013 stated that in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh, ‘reliable’ and ‘accurately recorded data’ from CWCs was not available.