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Child rights panels exist but on paper

New Delhi, Jan. 5: A year after the Supreme Court pulled up 19 states, including Bengal, that did not have a commission to protect children’s rights and directed them to set up one, most of these panels exist only on paper.

All states/Union territories are required to have a child rights commission under Section 17 of the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005. Twenty-three states now have the panels — some had them earlier — but they are in various states of non-functionality.

Bengal, too, has set up a commission comprising a chairperson and seven members but it exists “only in name”, according to a child rights activist who works with minors trafficked from the state.

“In Bengal, the child rights panel exists only in name. Five months ago, when I had approached the commission, I was told that they don’t have an office. This is the situation in a state where trafficking of minor girls is rampant,” said the activist, Rishi Kant.

Had a commission been functioning, it could have offered protection to the 16-year-old girl from Madhyamgram who was gang-raped twice, threatened by her tormentors and taunted by neighbours. The torture did not stop when the family moved to a new neighbourhood. The girl died on Tuesday of burn injuries. Police are treating the death as murder.

Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Tripura, Pondicherry, Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshadweep, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, and Daman & Diu have yet to set up the commissions, despite the January 3, 2013, order of the Supreme Court mandating that all states/Union territories must have one.

“What is more worrisome than not having a commission is to have one only on paper. There is a lack of political will to constitute such commissions and then to make them functional,” said Vinod Tikku, whose term as member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights expired a month ago.

“Perhaps things are this way because children are not votebanks. Over the years, it has been an uphill task to get states to form statutory bodies to help children in distress, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.”

According to affidavits filed by states in the Supreme Court last month in response to the January 2013 order, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya have constituted commissions but have not appointed members.

Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana and Tamil Nadu have appointed chairpersons but have not recruited members. Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala have appointed members, some the mandatory six required and others less, but with no one to lead them.

“The Kerala state commission for child rights was set up in June 2013. Members have been appointed, they will join next week,” said Neela Gangadharan, who runs the one-woman commission in the state.

Another chairperson, who had been in charge of protecting children orphaned by the Uttarakhand floods, said he had not been able to do anything for those in need.

“I have one member who doesn’t work and no member-secretary. Without a member-secretary appointed by the state government, it is impossible to work. I have written three letters to the chief secretary, but I am yet to get a response,” said Ajay Setia, the chairperson of the Uttarakhand State Protection of Child Rights set up in 2011.

“The commission could do nothing for the children who were orphaned by the floods. The state government is just not responsive. Actually, on the ground nothing is happening to protect children in the state. It is very difficult to work under these circumstances.”

Like Setia, who has been waiting for two years for members to join him, other chairpersons too have been biding time. Tamil Nadu commission chairperson Saraswathi Rangasamy has been waiting for almost a year.

“I am the only person in charge of the commission at the moment. We will be hiring six members soon,” Rangasamy said over the phone.

Her Chhattisgarh counterpart, Yashwant Jain, waited since the commission was formed in 2010 till the day he retired earlier this month but to little avail.

“I was very interested in this work, so I begged the state government to provide me staff. The state cleared 18 posts for the commission, but appointed only three in the last three years. I kept writing to the government, but nothing happened,” he said.

The state commissions for children have the mandate to implement and monitor three specific laws — Protection of Rights of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, and the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005.

Activists say the absence of such commissions negates the existence of laws drafted to protect children from abuse.

“Most state commissions are either not fully equipped or not functional. Some that appear to have everything in place have as members political appointees with no knowledge of child rights laws or basic training to deal with such cases,” said the child rights activist, Rishi Kant.

The Supreme Court in its January 3, 2013, order had directed 19 states and Union territories, including Bengal, to explain their failure to set up commissions for protection of child rights and take necessary action. Since then, Bengal has set up a commission but its chairperson could not be contacted.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 809 cases were registered in 2012 under Section 366 A for procuring minor girls for prostitution. Bengal accounted for 45.6 per cent of the cases.

Ironically, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the nodal child rights body, currently has no serving members, all six having finished their terms.

what should have happened

What is a state commission for protection of child rights?

It is a panel each state has to set up to protect, promote and defend child rights in its territory

It has to have a chairperson and six members with knowledge of child welfare. At least one member has to be a woman

It is required to submit a report to the state government annually and special reports when an issue needs immediate attention

What is its function?

To examine any law or constitutional provision to ensure that the safeguards protect child rights

To make recommendations to a state government to improve the safeguards

To inquire into child rights violations

To examine risk factors for children affected by terrorism, communal violence, riots, natural disasters, domestic violence, HIV/ AIDS, trafficking, maltreatment, torture and
exploitation, pornography and prostitution and recommend appropriate remedial measures

To ensure special care and protection of children from distressed, marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds

To conduct research in the field of child rights

To create awareness through various mediums

To inspect children’s homes and observation homes where children have been detained