Friday, September 29, 2023

Supreme Court issues directions for prevention of children from COVID-19

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The Supreme Court on Friday passed various directions in a suo moto case titled ‘In Re: Contagion of COVID-19 virus in Children Protection Homes’ to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus to Child Care Institutions. There are children who need care and attention and are kept in or children in conflict with law who are kept in various types of homes and children who are kept in foster and kinship care. The Court said that in these circumstances, it was felt that it is in the interest of children all of whom fall within the ambit of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 should be protected and prevented from contagious COVID-19.

The division bench comprising of Justice L. Nageswara Rao & Justice Deepak Gupta issued a number of directions and measures to Child Welfare Committee, Juvenile Justice Boards, Child Care Institutions and State Governments across India. The bench observed that the directions have been formulated on the basis of current information and understanding of COVID­19 precautions and response. Following measures were enumerated by the bench:-

Measures to be taken by Child Welfare Committees:-

  • CWCs are directed to proactively consider whether a child or children should be kept in the CCI considering the best interest, health and safety concern.
  • Special online sittings or video sessions may be called to consider measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 in Children’s Homes and shelters.
  • Online help desks and support systems for queries should be established at state level.
  • CWCs to monitor regularly through video conferencing, telephonically to ensure prevention of all forms of violence.

Measures to be taken by Juvenile Justice Boards and Children Courts:-

  • The Juvenile Justice Boards/Children’s Courts to consider measures to prevent risk of harm arising out of COVID-19.
  • JJBs and Children’s Courts are directed to consider whether a child should be kept in CCIs considering the best interest, health and safety concerns.
  • Children alleged to be in conflict with law, residing in observation homes to be released on bail.
  • Ensure counselling services are provided for all children in observation homes.

Directions to the State Governments:-

  • Circulate information with instruction to all CCIs about how to deal with COVID-19 immediately.
  • Begin preparing for a disaster/emergency situation that may arise and develop a system for how to organised trained volunteers who could step in to care for children.
  • Ensure that all government functionaries perform their duties diligently and that strict action would be taken should there be any dereliction of duty.
  • Make provisions to ensure that counselling is made available, and that there are monitoring systems in place to prevent violence, abuse, and neglect, including gender based violence, which may be exacerbated in contexts of stress produced by lockdown.
  • Ensure adequate availability of good quality face masks, soap, disinfectants such as bleach, or alcohol­based disinfectants, etc.
  • Ensure availability of adequate food, drinking water, and other necessities such as clean clothes, menstrual hygiene products, etc.

The bench further directed the State Government and nodal departments to keep the superintendents abreast with all relevant advisories, and circulars along with guidance issued where required. The Juvenile Justice Committees (JJCs) of every High Court shall also ensure that these directions are complied with in letter and spirit.  At the same time, it will be ensured that the directions issued by the State in respect of lock­down shall not be violated.

The Supreme Court while disposing the suo moto writ petition  request the JJCs of all the High Courts to not only ensure due compliance of the order but they shall also regularly monitor the implementation of the directions issued as frequently as possible and at least once a week.

-India Legal Bureau

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