Bid to shift kids hits hurdle

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  • Published 6.02.14

Guwahati, Feb. 5: The move to shift eight children lodged in the foreigner detention camp inside Kokrajhar district jail in Assam to a “suitable home” has hit a legal hurdle as the Assam Jail Manual lacks any such provision.

Kokrajhar deputy commissioner Nitin Khade, in a recent letter to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), said the children, living in the women’s ward with their mothers, could not be shifted to a “suitable home” run by the social welfare department as there was no specific rule in the jail manual.

The commission had sought the status report in November 2013 following a complaint lodged by the National NGO Child Rights Coalition, an umbrella organisation of NGOs working for children.

The Telegraph had reported on November 8 that a team of the coalition, during a visit to the jail, had found seven children living in a detention camp for illegal immigrants inside Kokrajhar district jail.

The NGOs demanded that the children be shifted to a separate home as their emotional needs and recreational and educational rights could not be met inside a jail amid convicts and undertrials. They said the children’s rights must be protected irrespective of their nationality as India was a signatory to the United Nations Convention on child rights.

In his letter, Khade submitted a list of eight children to the NCPCR, including five girls aged between three and 17 years, who have been lodged in the detention camp since May 2010. The kids are living there as their mothers have been declared Bangladeshis by the foreigner tribunals.

Khade’s letter, a copy of which is with The Telegraph, says according to Rule 882 of the Assam Jail Manual, no child above the age of six can be admitted to or kept inside a jail with his/her mother. Upon attaining that age, the child shall be handed over to a suitable surrogate, who may be a relative or a friend, according to the wishes of the female prisoner. If no suitable surrogate is forthcoming, then arrangements shall be made to send the child to a suitable home run by the directorate of social welfare department.

“These rules are applicable only in cases of children of prisoners who are either undertrials or convicted and are regular inmates in the jail. They have not been specifically made applicable in cases of children of declared foreign nationals,” the letter said.

Following Khade’s letter, a team of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights inspected the jail on January 17 and 18. It moved the state judicial department, seeking permission to shift the children to a home at Halakura, 42km from Dhubri town and 250km from here, in Dhubri district, close to the Indo-Bangladesh border.

“The state home department has given permission and we are waiting for the same from the judicial department,” chairperson (in-charge) of the state commission Runumi Gogoi told this correspondent.

Illegal migration from Bangladesh is a serious issue in Assam with thousands of cases being tried in 36 foreigner tribunals. The Centre recently decided to increase the number of such tribunals to 100 for speedy disposal of cases.