Police/SJPU – how they can choose to be an adversary or a friend of Children in Need of Care & Protection and Juvenile in Conflict with Law
SUMAN NALWA , ADDL DCP / SPUWC -DELHI POLICE
For any social and reformative legislation to be successful, it requires not just the good law but dedicated and motivated functionaries of the criminal justice system as well as the administrative wings of the govt in addition to responsive and responsible society. In the absence of these prerequisite, the law is but just a piece of paper and can never hope to make the impact it was intended to make.
The same stands true for our Juvenile Justice system as well. the object of juvenile justice system is prevention (ensuring that children do not come in conflict with the law), diversion (that children are kept away from formal criminal justice system and into community based and restorative processes to prevent repeat delinquency), protection ( of CICL from human rights violations and the children from exploitation and abuse). the mission being to not to simply punish the violators but to help the young violators of law to get back in the society on the right path. The focus being to look into the complexity of the life situation of the child and thus offering commensurate rehab program in the best interest of the child. Further, in case of CNCP, to reach out to them and ensure their proper care and rehabilitation. Thus ensuring aftercare and reintegration of all the children who have been left out, back into the society.
Considering these objectives, it was felt that the existing machinery was not in sync with the need of the children and that it requires a separate juvenile justice system which will cater to the specific needs of the children through a sensitive police, informal and flexible judiciary ready to intervene in the best interest of the child and institutions who are well equipped to design and implement the individual rehab and reintegration programs.
At the police level, a separate system of Juvenile Welfare Officers at the Police Station level, Special Juvenile Police Units at the District levels and State Nodal Unit at the state level were set up to upgrade the treatment meted out to the children at the hands of police to a more humane and sensitive approach. The Child Welfare Committees and Juvenile Justice Boards were also set up to look into the best interest of the child. However it has to be understood that the Juvenile Justice Act is a social legislation, aimed at changing the way our children get treated in the society and the system, and just putting the administrative structure alone is not enough to reach the goals set up by the JJ Legislation, it requires corresponding change in behavior as well as mindset at all levels to make a real impact in the life of a child.
From the police perspective, the JJ act lays down the groundwork of what police is expected to do or work in a given set of circumstance relating to children who are in need of care and protection as well as those in conflict of law, that they are specially instructed and trained and have an aptitude to handle the children. The rules go further and extols the police agency to be proactive. the rules bring out the proactive approach by making SJPUs the watch dog for providing legal protection against all kinds of cruelty, abuse and exploitation of child or juvenile and to take serious cognizance of adult perpetrators of crimes against children in addition to other duties mentioned thereof.
Role of police under the JJ Act
Police plays a substantial role in the juvenile justice system be it vis a vis the child in need of care and protection (CNCP) or the child in conflict with law (CICL). How it plays this role i.e., by taking the child along , in his best interest or considering him as any regular criminal or a victim depends on their level of sensitivity and commitment. In almost all the cases of CNCP as well as CICL, the police are usually the first point of contact with the child. This is indeed an important role as it means that the police officer, invariably the first contact point, now determines whether the child becomes the part of the juvenile justice system to begin with or not. And what kind of intervention the officer is going to make in the situation vis a vis the child often determines the future of this child.
The jj act and the modal rules lays specific duties for the police especially SJPUs vis a vis children such as to upgrade the police treatment of all juveniles and the children (Section 63), to coordinate and function as a watch dog for providing legal protection against all kinds of cruelty, abuse and exploitation of child or juvenile (rule 84(5)), to take serious cognizance of adult perpetrators of crimes against children and to see to it that they are without delay apprehended and booked under the appropriate provisions of the law (rule 84(6)), identifying CICL and CNCP in association with civil society(rule 84(7)) to name the few.
Child in Need of Care and Prptection: The specific role of police in how to address the situation when a child victim comes within their jurisdiction, is laid down in CrPC as well as JJ Act. This is more the procedural part which at best is but a skeletal and has to be augmented by the right attitude and inclination to do whatever is required in the best interest of the child. The police however, has historically and from the nature if its work profile is more inclined towards law and order and has more of crime criminal orientation. The change from crime and criminal orientation to victim orientation needs loads of efforts, interest and dedication in addition to a sensitized and dedicated police force. Whether it’s a case of physical, emotional or sexual abuse of the child, whether the child has been exploited for his work, whether the child is a street child with nowhere to go, a beggar, whether this child who is in need of care and protection of the law comes within the purview of law requires a sensitive citizen who is ready to intervene as well as a sensitive police force which is duty bound to take such children within its cudgels so that the JJ system becomes operational . These children invariably cannot stand up for themselves and need all the support possible to access to the services available to them under the law. The children being children are afraid of the formal system be it the police which goes to rescue them or the judicial system and the children homes where they are taken. At that point a soft and sensitive approach wherein the child can trust and find a friend and a guide in police will definitely mean a new life for the child and give him courage to break out of the shackles and rise towards a better destiny in addition to helping the police to nail the culprits.
There have been instances where in the children were so afraid of police with stories as well as image of police brutality that it often took lot of time to allay their fears and establish a congenial rapport with them, remove that hostility and build a confidence that police is acting in their best interest.
Child in Conflict with Law
First of all it has to be realized that any interaction with a juvenile delinquent is an opportunity to prevent him from committing the crime again. This missed opportunity often leads to juveniles downslide into involvement in repeated, serious and often violent crimes.
The jj act gives lot of discretion to police while dealing with children. The very concept of giving the discretion is so that the police person can act responsibly in the best interest of the child. As stated earlier, the police at the first point of contact with CICL and decides whether the child will be a part of criminal justice system at all or not. Thus the most important decisions in law enforcement are made by the police officers. At this point of contact is required the most balanced and appropriate response.
Under the JJ Act there are three categories of juvenile offenders, firstly those involved in petty offences where in the police officer has been given the discretion to sort the matter at the PS itself without resorting to any procedural requirements. The second category is of juveniles involved in non serious offences i.e. those entailing punishment of less than 7 years under the IPC. In this category the police officer can apprehend the juvenile only when it is in his best interest and then also can state that the child be treated as CNCP rather than the one in conflict with law. In serious offences wherein the punishment is more than 7 years, the police officer again has discretion on how he wants to treat the child. Thus the discretion comes with a responsibility to see to it that the police child encounter results in a positive intervention.
What is required to fulfill the objectives of JJ Act is sensitive, proactive and dedicated policing wherein the theory can be converted into practice because on the police interaction lies the outcome of a situation as well as the future of the child. Now the question that arises is how to make the force proactive? what are the kind of officers who are becoming JWOs? what is there orientation and interest? what are the perks and resources available with the commensurate challenges in handling juveniles?
Till these questions are dealt with, we have to make do with getting the job done through administrative directions and strict supervision. Thus we need to develop code of conduct for police personal in the lines of SOPs while dealing with children in different situations. Next step is involving the society at large. We need to rope in NGOs, other public spirited individuals, RWAs and other institutions like state legal service authorities which not only help the police agencies but also act as checks through their feedback mechanisms.
In Delhi Police, the SJPUs were created in each and every district. To bring about attitudinal and behavioral changes, training and sensitization programs were conducted for police officers at two level i.e., the police station level for all the functionaries at all level who are working in the field and at State level for all the JWOs of the Police stations. The idea was to have a sensitized police force at all levels including the field staff that invariably were the first point of contact with the child. The unique part of the police station sensitization programs is that it is being done by the NGOs working in the field of child rights. The NGOs resource persons visit the police stations regularly and interact with the police staff at all levels thus bringing in an outsiders perspective on how Delhi police is responding to children issues.
In addition to this we have an excellent networking with governmental as well as nongovernmental organizations working on child rights. It is a kind of symbiotic relationship wherein both are working for a common goal in an atmosphere of trust, support and mutual respect. The end result is that NGOs and other organizations now work hand in hand with police in the best interest of the child.
PROBLEMS FACED BY POLICE in performing their duties vis a vis children
One of the major problem faced is that there is still no separate exclusive JWO or SJPU in the distt. Role conflict and lack of time as well as lack of logistic support affect the expectations from the police as the time and patience required to deal with the child is seldom there. Some of the other problems faced are
- the need for specialized training for appropriate handling of children
- the role conflict experienced by the police officer in solving a crime and helping the child.
- low community participation in addressing juvenile delinquency.
- poor police image and perception makes it difficult to establish a rapport with the child and to work within the community with mutual trust and goals.
- police has very little intervention or say when it comes to the orders for release or incarcerations given by the JJBs. police rarely has any role in the after release processes that too when rules state that juvenile delinquency prevention is also one of the role of the JWO. Infect some of the orders of JJB have criticized the police officer from visiting the juvenile offender.
- the important point is that the positive efforts of the police do not get reflected in their output as it is measured more on crime and law and order data thus the stakes or value additions for taking on this additional work is not there in our tangible goal oriented organization as well as society.
Need of the hour is to deal with juvenile delinquency and cncp in a holistic manner, addressing at risk families so that preventive strategy can be put in place. At present there are not enough institutions and programs to help the delinquents to re-integrate in society and lead the life without crime. At times the trust that they can indeed successfully do so is also missing. Recently prayas has taken up this initiative and have started a program “yuva connect” in this regard.
Police actions have to be accompanied by actions from other institutions. Police has a limited role and cannot make any promises vis a vis resources, professional counseling and reintegration and on its own has nothing much to offer. What is required is a holistic interdepartmental approach in dealing with the delinquent and preventing them in future. In the absence of any concrete and effective rehab program and liberal courts and the fact that the repeat offenders are ever increasing, forming gangs, becoming hardened and getting involved in heinous crimes, there is chronic frustration in the police and thus the whole JJ system appears to be more symbolic than actually addressing the issue of juvenile delinquency.
Also we need to inculcate responsibility in the juvenile for his acts and omissions, the intervention of JWO should be encouraged to ensure that juveniles do not return to crime. The community service should be encouraged for reparation of their wrongs and last but not the least there is a need to develop competencies to develop the delinquents as productive citizens.
Paper delivered by Ms. Suman Nalwa, Addl.DCP/SPUW&C, Nanak Pura, New Delhi to National Seminar on Access to Justice-What it means to a child on 9th & 10th July, 2011 at Hall No. 6, Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi
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