Need to continue supporting, monitoring needs of children affected by COVID: SC'S Justice S. Ravindra Bhat

New Delhi, Dec 21 (PTI) Apex court judge and chairperson of the Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee Justice S. Ravindra Bhat has emphasized on the need to sustainably continue supporting and monitoring the needs of children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to put in place measures which can withstand and mitigate such impact in the future.
Justice Bhat made these remarks during a review meeting held by the Committee for the protection of children and to take stock of the implementation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The meeting, held on December 18, focused on the care and protection of children, especially those who were orphaned, abandoned, or whose families cannot support them, as well as restoration of children in conflict with the law and the impact of violence on the mental health of the vulnerable.
According to the statement by the Committee, Justice Bhat said the issue of mental health impact on sexually abused children, and rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law requires urgent attention in the way such offenses are dealt with.
He also stressed on the need to develop infrastructure and systems that support such children long after the legal proceedings are over.
He urged the states to provide child-friendly, gender-responsive, trauma-informed, and context-appropriate justice and social services, in a manner that is responsive to the individual child’s needs, background, situations, and level of maturity .
Justice Bhat highlighted a few priority areas, including the need to strengthen monitoring systems and adequate individual care plans for children under State protection, especially those who have been restored to their families.
He pressed for strengthening of sponsorship and schemes and referral to prevent family separation as a result of socio-economic conditions, review social services regulatory frameworks to ensure professionalization and specialization of child protection system under the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), and the need to conduct a study of the implementation of the POCSO Act.
He said that seamless coordination and collaboration among sectors and among actors is of utmost importance to achieve the desired result for the care, protection, and justice for children.
The meeting was held with the chairpersons and members of the Juvenile Justice Committees of High Courts and representatives from the union and state governments as well as Union Territories.
It was attended by the Secretary of MWCD, the Chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), senior officials of departments of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare, as also United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) India representatives.
MWCD Secretary Indevar Pandey said the welfare of children affected by the pandemic was the topmost priority of the ministry.
He gave an overview of the schemes of the union government along with the PM CARES for Children Scheme, which has been implemented for the support of pandemic-affected children.
The Secretary further stated that deinstitutionalization is the most important need of the hour and the child remaining within the society should become the norm.
He also said that the mission ‘Vatsalya’ is to strengthen the focus on a family-based alternative for children who have lost their parents, including through foster and kinship care arrangements, and also increase the scope of sponsorship schemes as gate-keeping mechanisms to ensure vulnerable children can remain with their families.
Chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights Priyank Kanoongo presented the number of children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during the meeting.
Kanoongo reaffirmed that the Commission would continue to strengthen data collection and assessments of the situation of children to understand how children who lost parents during the pandemic have access to child care, protection, and other social welfare services, and also to provide support to all such children.
Dr Shekhar Seshadri, Advisor, NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences’) SAMVAD (Support, Advocacy and Mental Health Interventions for Children in Vulnerable Circumstances and Diseases) Initiative, spoke on the mental health impact of sexually abused children. He underlined the need for the provision of accessible mental health and psychosocial support to help children in conflict with the law and their families to cope with and adapt in the face of specific situations.
Soledad Herrero, Chief of Child Protection, UNICEF India highlighted that children have been exposed to uncertainty, isolation, and grief as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with severe consequences to their protection and wellbeing .
She commended efforts of the government, the Supreme Court, and High Courts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on children, especially those who lost their parents to COVID-19.
Herrero said, In every crisis, there are opportunities, and COVID-19 has brought three opportunities. First, the opportunity for a paradigm shift to build child protection systems that put the family at the center and prevent institutionalization, especially due to poverty.
She said that it also brought an opportunity to promote alternatives to detention and diversion from formal criminal proceedings for children in conflict with the law in cases of minor offences.
Thirdly, the opportunity to bring visibility to mental health issues, an area under-reported and neglected until now, she added.
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