In a significant address during the National Annual Stakeholders Consultation on Children in Conflict with Law, Justice Ravindra Bhat emphasized the importance of reforming children in conflict with the law and flagged the issue of vacancies in child care institutions. The consultation, held with the theme “Children in Conflict with Law: Prevention, Restorative Justice, Diversion, and Alternatives to Detention,” witnessed the participation of key dignitaries, including Smriti Zubin Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development, and Justice B. V. Nagarathna, Judge, Supreme Court, among others.

Justice Bhat’s address underscored the idea that children who find themselves in conflict with the law can and should be reformed. He highlighted that in a rapidly evolving world, leveraging knowledge, technology, and social resources is essential to identify vulnerabilities and prevent children from coming into conflict with the law. The underlying belief is that reformation must be the primary driver behind all decisions concerning these children.

One of the significant concerns raised by Justice Bhat was the high number of vacancies in child care institutions. He noted that while progress has been made in establishing bodies like juvenile justice boards and child welfare committees, many of them are operating below their full strength due to vacancies. This understaffing can hinder the effective functioning of these institutions and potentially lead to a breakdown in the system. Justice Bhat stressed the importance of filling these vacancies to ensure the proper care and rehabilitation of children.

Justice Bhat also discussed “Mission Vatsalya,” which focuses on the protection and welfare of children. The mission outlines implementation procedures and mechanisms financed through various central and state resources to fulfillcommitments related to children’s rehabilitation and social integration. It has led to the establishment of juvenile justice boards and child welfare committees in every district as statutory bodies responsible for enquiring into the situation of children in conflict and prioritizing their rehabilitation and social integration.

In addition to these bodies, special and child-friendly courts have been established in states, and legal aid lawyers have been appointed under the guidance of the National Legal Services Authority. Over the past decade, district child protection units and state child protection societies have also improved the scope and quality of their services.

Justice Bhat emphasized the need for interim measures that align with the child’s best interests and the law rather than resorting to institutions as a last resort. He encouraged the use of group counseling and community services in decisions related to children in conflict with the law. Additionally, he stressed the importance of providing education, counseling, sports, and life-skills education to children during their stay in institutions, recognizing that the quality of education plays a crucial role in a child’s development.

Highlighting the challenges faced by children after leaving care institutions, Justice Bhat expressed the need for effective post-release care and support. He called for the dissemination of information about available resources to ensure that children receive the necessary assistance and guidance once they are out of these institutions.

Justice Bhat acknowledged the vulnerability of children when they come in contact with the justice system, whether as children in conflict with the law or as children in need of care and protection. He emphasized the importance of a prevention approach to prioritize the well-being of children and reduce their involvement in criminal activities.

In conclusion, Justice Ravindra Bhat’s address at the National Annual Stakeholders Consultation highlighted the critical need for reformation of children in conflict with the law and the challenges posed by vacancies in child care institutions. He stressed the importance of a prevention approach and effective post-release care to ensure the well-being and rehabilitation of these children. The multi-stakeholder approach was emphasized as crucial to achieving the objectives set out under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, and upholding the principles in the best interest of the child.

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