Six months after taking over as chairman of the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Pravin Ghuge, earlier this month, issued recommendations on surrogacy to the state government, stressing on the need for an urgent monitoring body to approve surrogacy procedures in the absence of a law. Ghuge talks to The Indian Express about the case that led to these guidelines, and a range of child rights issues.
In one of the cases this month, you issued recommendations to the state government on the need for a task force to monitor surrogacy and approval from a court for initiating such a procedure. What led to that?
We came across a case filed by a mother of two daughters in Mumbai, who said her husband underwent surrogacy procedure without her consent in Jaslok Hospital for want of a son. We directed the police to file a case against the accused father and asked the state government to inquire if Jaslok Hospital knowingly aided the accused. But I realised while hearing this case that while it is a violation of rights of the two minor daughters who were abandoned by their father for a son, it is also of grave concern that surrogacy is so easy to conduct. There should be checks. In our recommendations, we have asked the state government to prepare a district-wise task force to monitor all surrogacy cases. There should be approval from local courts before such procedures are undertaken, and all IVF centres should be registered and routinely inspected. Such a case should not be repeated. Just like an adoption procedure, there should be requisites for surrogacy. Until the surrogacy Bill becomes an Act, the state government should look into these recommendations.
What forms the bulk of the complaints filed before the commission?
Sixty per cent of the cases we hear are related to Right To Education (RTE). Issues pertain to discrimination in school faced by children who get a seat under RTE. In several cases, children complain of harassment in school. Other cases that we hear are related to the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, of corporal punishment, and of cases pertaining to the Juvenile Justice Act. Currently, the commission is hearing 248 cases. From April last year till this January, 130 new complaints have been filed.
Do you feel the commission’s jurisdiction is limited, or is there lack of coordination with other government agencies?
I don’t think we have limited jurisdiction. Child rights commission can aid in safeguarding several rights of children. What we need is better implementation of law by other authorities. Say for RTE implementation in school, the school administration, state-level officers, district officer and education officers should coordinate and monitor the process. If school management committee is strengthened, a lot of cases that come to us can be resolved at that level. Training and orientation of education officers are also necessary, and there is a need to strengthen Village Child Protection Committees. Currently all these committees are on paper. Ground level training remains poor. If all our coordinating agencies improve their working, there will be less requirement for the commission to exercise its jurisdiction.
Under POCSO Act, there are existing issues in how a minor victim is asked to depose in court, or the atmosphere in a court. Do you receive complaints regarding this?
Under Section 25 of the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, it is necessary to have a district court for children. Such courts should be child-friendly. But I have also come to know that the burden of cases is massive, that is a good indication. Families are developing trust in this law and coming forward to register cases of sexual offence. We have requested the state government to ensure more children courts are set up. In Mumbai, Nagpur and Aurangabad, under the High Court bench, the state government will be setting up ‘ideal courts’ for children. It is a project with International Justice Mission on pilot basis. These courts will ensure friendly environment where a minor will be comfortable in recording statement.
A boarding caretaker of a school for the differently abled in Karjat has been found sexually assaulting deaf and mute girls. There is a police complaint in the matter. Is the commission acting against them?
I do not know about this case. We will look into it and if need be a suo motu notice will be issued.
The commission has taken an initiative against child marriage. Can you tell us more about it?
We held a public hearing in Beed on all issues related to children. Twenty cases of child marriages came up, which we will now take up on a case-wise basis. In the public hearing, girls complained about need for transportation to school, and about lack of toilets in school. Girls are married off at an early age in the Vidarbha region. A lot of parents migrate for sugarcane cultivation and since they can’t take their young daughters along, they prefer to get them married early. We are taking up all such cases. The commission will ensure these girls complete their education first. The government has to provide a protective environment for girls in schools. There should be skill development courses to distract them from early marriage.