The Supreme Court has called for a broader interpretation of the definition of the expression “children in need of care and protection” in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, as it does not specifically include children of victims of sexual abuse and trafficking in its scope. “Even though a child in need of care and protection is defined in Section 2(14) of the JJ Act, the definition does not specifically include some categories of children.
Consequently, we are of the view that since the JJ Act is intended for the benefit of children and is intended to protect and foster their rights, the definition of a child in need of care and protection must be given a broad interpretation. It would be unfortunate if certain categories of children are left out of the definition, even though they need as much care and protection as categories of children specifically enlisted in the definition. Beneficial legislations of the kind that we are dealing with demand an expansive view to be taken by the courts and all concerned,” a division bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Mehta said.
The court was delivering the order on a PIL based on a 2007 news report that highlighted the alleged sexual exploitation of children in orphanages in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. During the hearing, the court noted that the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, does not provide any definition of “children in need of care and protection” though no one can deny that a child victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault or sexual harassment is a child in need of care and protection.
It agreed with the contention of the amicus curiae, advocate Aparna Bhat, that this needed to be corrected and victims of sexual abuse or assault or harassment under the Act as also victims of child trafficking needed to be included. “Such children must also be given protection under the provisions of the JJ Act, being victims of crime under the POCSO Act and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956,” the bench said. It also ordered that all orphanages, whether in the private or public sector, be registered by December 31 this year and be subjected to annual social audits to ensure accountability.
On the question of social audit, the bench said, “It is imperative that the process of conducting a social audit must be taken up in right earnestness by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights as well as by each state commission for protection of child rights. This is perhaps the best possible method by which transparency and accountability in the management and functioning of child care institutions and other bodies under the JJ Act and Model Rules can be monitored and supervised.”
A lawyer had written to the court citing the newspaper report and this was converted into a PIL on September 10, 2007. Subsequently, the scope of the petition was expanded to include the rights of children in general.