Bill which seeks to strengthen protection of children and streamline adoption process passed in Lok Sabha

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Lok SabhaThe proposed legislation was strongly appreciated by both the ruling party as well as opposition members. (File photo)

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021, which seeks to amend the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, was passed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, with the proposed legislation being strongly appreciated by both the ruling party as well as opposition members.

The amendment seeks to strengthen protection of children — including the ones who require protection under the law as well as those who are in conflict with law — and also streamline the process of adoption in the country, bringing the process under district magistrates.

Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, while addressing the House, said that the law seeks to make DMs “synergising officers” in both cases of protection as well as adoption by increasing their role.

किशोर न्याय (बालकों की देखरेख और संरक्षण) संशोधन विधेयक, 2021 पर #लोकसभा में हुई चर्चा का जवाब दे रही हैं महिला एवं बाल विकास मंत्री स्मृति ईरानी@MinistryWCD @smritiirani #BudgetSession2021

— Lok Sabha TV (@loksabhatv) March 24, 2021

She further said that district magistrates are already empowered to review issues related to protection of children. After the bill becomes a law, their scope will go beyond reviewing issues, she said, adding that once they are legally ordained, they would make child rights and protection a priority area.

“I want to tell the Parliament that all states are consulted. Just bringing a legislation should not suffice. Instead we will ensure that the Act is properly implemented. An NCPCR audit of Child Care institutions, 90 per cent of which are run by NGOs, found that 39 per cent CCIs were not registered, even after the 2015 amendment was brought in. It also found that less than 20 per cent CCIs, especially for girls, had not been set up in some states, 26 per cent child welfare officers were not there. Moreover, three-fifth have no toilets, one-tenth no drinking water, 15 per cent homes don’t have provisions of separate beds, one-tenth had no diet plans and one-fourth of the CCIs told us that the Child Welfare Officers had never inspected the institutions,’’ said Irani in Parliament.

In some cases, rehabilitation of children is not a priority for childcare homes and children are reportedly kept in such institutions to get funds. Placing the CCIs under the direct supervision of the DMs is expected to make the CCIs more accountable.

The bill also seeks to categorise crimes, wherein the maximum sentence is more than seven years imprisonment but no minimum sentence or a minimum sentence of less than seven years has been provided, as “serious offences” under the Juvenile Justice Act, and to remove difficulties in interpretation of the Act.

“Serious offences” include crimes for which the punishment under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for the time being is imprisonment between three and seven years.

On the child welfare committee, the bill states that no persons will be appointed as a member unless they have been actively involved in health, education or welfare activities pertaining to children for at least seven years or are practicing professionals with a degree in child psychology or psychiatry or law or social work or sociology or human development.

The bill further proposes that the appointment of any member of the committee will be terminated by the state government after an inquiry if they fail to attend the proceedings of the committee consecutively for three months without any valid reason or if they fail to attend less than three-fourths of the sittings in a year.

“We will no longer wait for a serious incident to happen for us to protect children,’’ Irani said.

The minister further pointed out that the adoption amendment will streamline the process and make it swifter, adding that there are 900 pending cases of adoption “which have been waiting for years”.

Congress member from Patiala, Preneet Kaur, while complimenting Irani for bringing in the bill, raised concerns of overburdening DMs who are also in charge of looking after the administrative machinery of districts.

NCP MP Supriya Sule, however, pointed out that after consulting various DMs in Maharashtra, this did not appear to be a problem as they seemed to be keen on taking up the responsibility.

“I want to congratulate Smriti Irani for bringing such an encouraging bill in the interest of the children of the country and appreciate it for being transparent and robust. I want to assure the minister that I have spoken to the state WCD minister and she has assured me that it would be implemented. I also want to ask Smritiji if we as MPs can do anything to assist in implementing the bill, in carrying the issue forward or in any other way that the ministry feels fit,’’ she said.

Hasnain Masoodi of J&KNC and ET Mohammad Basheer of IUML Kerala said they strongly believe that the adoption process should remain under the purview of the judiciary.

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