There are over 400,000 children living in about 10,000 care homes across India. This is a statistic that we quote very often at AFEC, but we also wanted to talk about these children, how they enter state care.
Who are these children?
Nearly 50% of migrant children living on the streets in Delhi do not want to go back to their place of origin, despite being aware of where they come from, according to a 2011 study by Save the Children. Many of these children have run away from their families, either from other states or in Delhi, and work for money for themselves or to send to their families. These children come under the legal umbrella of Children in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP) and are required, by law, to be rehabilitated (typically in care homes).
In India, the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 (JJ Act) has laid out several parameters for children to be considered CNCP. These include certain cases where children live with parents or guardians. For example, if their guardians are unable to take care of them, have abandoned them, are mentally ill or unstable, or if the children are immediately vulnerable to child marriage or trafficking. Essentially, CNCP are children who are not supported in a stable and safe environment with their needs taken care of, hindering their development in childhood. In this scenario, children under 18 are seen as in need of protection, which is in contrast with CCL (Children in Conflict with Law) where, if the crime is heinous, they are treated as adult criminals from ages 16 to 18.
Children in Need of Care and Protection vs Children in Conflict with Law
The JJ Act has set up two different statutory bodies for these vulnerable children, namely the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB). All CNCP are registered with the CWC and then rehabilitated in various childcare institutions. Children in conflict with the law are placed in observation homes or places of safety where they can be taken care of pending any punitive procedures by the court.
Causes for children becoming vulnerable
Statistics by MAD (Make A Difference) foundation has found broken families and poverty to be the top causes for children to be admitted to childcare institutes. In the USA, on the other hand, the top cause for a child to be admitted into foster care is drug abuse, where parents or guardians are addicts or have lost lives to addictions, which leads to the children being placed in foster homes.
There are strong systemic causes for children becoming vulnerable and needing care away from their families. The JJ Act provides a number of options for direct, foster and alternative care, as well as institutionalized care in group settings as a last resort.