Concern surfaces over Child Welfare Committees falling short of members

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The Sikkim Judicial Academy recently conducted a workshop on the “Role of Child Welfare Committee, Role of Welfare Officers and Role of Special Juvenile Police and NGOs”, for members of Child Welfare Committee, officers from Social Welfare Department, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Special Juvenile Police and District Child Protection Officers, under the guidance of S.S. Hamal, resource person.

The workshop commenced with the highlighting of Sikkim’s current status as the 3rd most prosperous country, and the stark contrast as the first position in the number of suicide cases in India. The disparity indicates to the depression that people feel, not because they do not have, but rather due to the excess of having.

This correlates with Hamal’s first observation of the Child Welfare Committees in Sikkim, wherein Section 27 of the Juvenile Justice Act states that each district must have one Chairperson and four other members, but in Sikkim, only the south district CWC has fulfilled all 5 positions. One would think the capital, Gangtok would have the same but there is only 1 Chairperson and 2 members.

Are the posts vacant because of underqualified people or suitable candidates? If that is the case, Hamal suggested that there should be a slight relaxation, if any applicants were to consider filling the seats.
Although the first part of the session was for the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and Child Welfare Officers (CWO), none from the latter category were present. He pointed it out saying that it spoke volumes.
During the first session, Hamal also explained that the CWC has tremendous power, from granting custody to selecting foster homes. The latter half of the first session he explained the subsections of Sec 27 of the JJ Act.

The second session was for the Special Juvenile Police Unit and Non-Governmental Organizations and more lively and engaging, with both audience and resource person interacting with real-life cases and stories.
Members of the CWC suggested that the police should be taught how to deal with children with mental issues and be aware of certain patterns that the juvenile in custody shows because sometimes, they commit suicide in a panic. These deaths and suicides in custody or in rehabilitation could be preventable if the patterns in the juvie are recognized earlier by the officers authorized to look after them.

Roshnila Gurung, Child Protection Officer (South) mentioned that the most common background of children in juvenile custody is that they come from broken families. She added that a more therapeutic approach is needed, instead of only administering medicine to them.
“I think counsellors should not be monotonous (one-on-one therapy) but rather, creative in their approach to treatment (alternative therapy)”, she said.

The audience deliberated on whether a separate facility needs to be created for children who are not taken by homes or institutions, owing to the lack of help that neither could provide. The only problem is that the state does not accommodate for such infrastructure, much less trained medical professionals who could help the children. The salary is meagre, no long term legal services are granted for the children. In the current infrastructure, the children suffer from added trauma.

Sikkim’s lack of child psychologists and mental health professionals is extremely harmful in the long run. A young child psychologist present in the audience shared her experience of applying for a vacant post. The concerned department replied that there were no vacancies, yet everyone concerned with the Juvenile Justice Act thought otherwise.

A few police officers shared that shuffling of competent and trained (with the Juvenile Justice Act and Mental Health sensitization) personnel by the time they become familiar with everything that needs to be is a serious blow to the stations. Therefore, a suggestion was that police academies are taught about the necessary laws before joining the job; practical, ground-level solutions are needed.

Tseten P. Bhutia, SDPO Mangan said that there are 3-4 juvenile cases in a month, the most common being POCSO cases, missing children and a few thefts. Since a police officer could seem intimidating to a child, he says that sensitization programs by the police department are conducted in schools and other places.

At the conclusion of the workshop, since all officers and authorities concerned with juveniles in protection/custody brought forward a range of suggestions, the Sikkim Judicial Academy’s Director decided that the Academy would like to compile it all and take it forward for consideration by the High Court.
“It is not fun to keep it all on paper – it also needs to be practical”, quipped Hamal.

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