The bill underscores the present status of the Central Adoption Resource Agency as the nodal agency for the regulation of adoption of orphaned children. Tired of waiting for the Bill to pass muster with the Rajya Sabha and given minister Maneka Gandhi’s personal interest in the cause, the Ministry of Women and Child Development had earlier this year framed adoption rules. It also resulted in an immediate controversy as, peeved by the rules allowing single parents to adopt, the Missionaries of Charity stopped its adoption operations in August. The Bill also provides for inter-country adoption, provided no Indian adoptive parents are available for a specified period after a child has been declared legally free for adoption.
Child Care Infrastructure
The Bill mandates that every district should have a Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), set up by state governments, consisting of a metropolitan magistrate and two social workers, one of them a woman. The JJB will adjudicate on offences committed by children (defined as anyone who is below 18) and complete the inquiry within a specified period. Should the board, after a preliminary inquiry, feel that a juvenile aged between 16 and 18 years accused of a heinous offence (an offence that carries a sentence of seven years or more under the Indian Penal Code) did it in “full comprehension of the consequences of that act” and “with a mindset akin to an adult”, it has the power to refer the child for trial under adult laws.
The board can take the assistance of experienced psychologists, psycho-social workers and other experts to reach a decision. If, after the inquiry, the board decides that the child should be tried as an adult, it can refer accordingly. In case of younger children, the board can decide whether they should be let off with mere admonition or fine or need to undergo counselling or a range of other options or be sent to a special home for a period not exceeding three years. A juvenile cannot be imprisoned for life (till the end of his/her life) or death penalty.
* The Bill also requires Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) to be constituted in every district to decide on the the future of children in need of care and protection. It will have a chairperson and four other members who would have prior experience of working with children. One of the four members will have to be a woman. An abandoned child has to be presented to the CWC within 24 hours and a report prepared based on which the committee will take a call on whether the child needs to be sent to a care home or put up for adoption or foster care.
The new law mandates a children’s court so that even if a heinous offender aged between 16 and 18 years is found liable by the JJB to be tried under adult laws, s/he would not required to be taken to an adult court. A children’s court is a special court established under the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, or a special court under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. If such courts are not available or if a relevant court has not been designated, the juvenile offenders can be tried in a sessions court that has jurisdiction to try offences under the Act.
The bill lays down that children in need of care and protection may be placed in foster care, through the orders of the CWC in a family which does not include the child’s biological or adoptive parents or in an unrelated family. The selection of the foster family is based on the family’s ability, intent, capacity and prior experience of taking care of children.
Any person accused of assaulting a child or abandoning her/him can be sent to jail for up to three years and fined up to Rs 1 lakh. Anybody who uses a child for begging can be fined for a similar amount but may invite imprisonment of up to five years. If a person gives drugs or such other addictive substance to a child, s/he can be imprisoned for up to seven years. The maximum fine remains the same. The penalty for selling a child is imprisonment of up to five years and the same amount as fine. The discrepancy between punishment for selling a child and that for offering one narcotics and the fact that the Bill makes distinction between the two kinds of offences making one more grave than the other caused much alarm among Rajya Sabha MPs on Monday, with many of them, while supporting the bill, questioned the basis for making this kind of distinction.
If any group declared as militant by the government recruits a child, the penalty is rigorous imprisonment for up to seven years and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. Similar provisions have been prescribed for groups or individuals using children for other kinds of illegal activities.
The Bill lays down that any person in-charge of or employed in a childcare institution, who subjects a child to corporal punishment with the aim of disciplining the child, shall be liable, on first conviction, to a fine of Rs 10,000 and for every subsequent offence, shall be liable for imprisonment which may extend to three months or fine or both. If the management of such an institution does not cooperate with an inquiry or comply with the orders of the CWC or the Board or court or state government, the person in-charge of the management of the institution shall be liable for punishment with imprisonment for a term not less than three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.