How India Is Progressing To Make Child Rights Accessible?
One of the first major milestones achieved towards the care and protection of parentless and abandoned children was the introduction of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, in 2009
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In the recent years, children in need of care and protection have been receiving significant attention from the government, media, civil society, community and other stakeholders. Especially with respect to parentless and abandoned children, some of the amendments made, have had a positive impact on the quality of care being received by these children.
With this write-up, I tend to highlight some of the key initiatives taken by the government, in the direction, especially for parentless and abandoned children, within the last decade and where the focus is needed more .
One of the first major milestones achieved towards the care and protection of parentless and abandoned children was the introduction of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, in 2009. The scheme was meant to build a protective environment for all children in India, with a special focus on those who are the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, child labourers, children living on streets and children affected by HIV. The scheme aimed at establishing a robust child protection system at the national, state, district, sub-district and community levels.
Notably, amendment of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, which was replaced by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act, 2015), was another major step. The amended Act incorporated some key changes for children in need of care and protection. It defined the role of each stakeholder in providing care and protection to parentless children. Significantly, the Act recognised the ‘group foster care’ model, thus, strengthening the support for parentless children. The Act defined ‘group foster care’ as a family like care facility for children in need of care and protection, who are without parental care. It provides personalised care and imparts a sense of belonging and identity to the child, through family like and community based solutions.
The group foster care model recognises that while children need all forms of physical support like shelter, good healthcare and education, it is equally important to address every child’s emotional and social needs. Group foster care is currently being practiced by organisations like SOS Children’s Villages for over five decades, and offers replicable best practices in providing family based and family like care to parentless children.
The JJ Act 2015, also mandated in each district, the setting up of Child Care Institutions (CCI), where children in need of care and protection can be catered to, for their basic needs through proper care, protection, development, treatment, social re-integration, in a child-friendly manner. Additionally, it mandates that the state government will provide monthly funding for such foster care through District Child Protection Unit after following the procedures to ensure well being of the children, taking into account the number of children.
In countries like the United States, the concept of foster care, under the guardianship of foster parents is widely prevalent. If adopted in India, this could be an important way to provide a home to children in need of care and protection. Well defined guidelines, effective monitoring and capacity building of foster parents to keep children safe from abuse will ensure that the transition is smooth for the children, so that they can reach their full potential, and truly find a family, and not just care-
takers. While rigorous selection process will be important, the key to success of foster care will be in increasing numbers of ordinary citizens coming forward to offer their services, and not seeing it as their last resort.
As a country, India has a well developed and strong family system. Therefore, the proliferation of models like the group foster care and other forms of family-based care for parentless and abandoned children, aligned to our traditional and cultural values, can truly ensure a healthy environment for the parentless and abandoned children to help them lead a fuller life.
Even in the current arrangement, if everyone including government, civil society organisations, volunteers, welfare committees, and care institutions and homes, work together in a coordinated way, much can be done to protect the rights of the children in need of care and protection.
Many civil society organizations in India have been proactively striving towards the protection of parentless children’s rights, some even offering a home-based and child-friendly environment to them, providing an ecosystem for a child’s holistic development. However, compared to the 20 million children in need of care and protection, these organisations are only a handful.
The Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 have also set an ambitious course for the coming years aiming for a more equitable future. Their core is a commitment to leave no one behind, including protecting the rights of children. To monitor the same, UNICEF has been regularly sharing reports that reflect the actual progress made by the regions and guides them in framing their policies, for protecting the rights of the vulnerable children.
Among the stakeholders, state governments have a key role to play, in protecting the rights of the parentless and abandoned children. Standards for child protection and care have already been laid in the legal framework that regulates the obligation of state towards its citizens. Some states which are leading the way in actively taking up the issue in a positive and supportive way include Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Telangana, Assam, and Meghalaya.
The aim is to continuously bring down the number of parentless and abandoned children; a mass penetration and adoption of the ‘group foster care’ model is needed in achieving this. If all care-giving organisations can look at adopting a similar model, the children could get a second shot to their overall development, building on their physical, emotional and mental strength, in turn, making them responsible and contributing citizens of the society.
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