Delhi High Court wonders: “If capital Delhi can’t stop child labour, what’ll other states do”

child labour
Child labourers at a brick kiln

Appalled by the state of the child labour in the Union Territory Delhi, Delhi High Court has observed:

To our consternation and dismay if the capital of the country, which is endowed with better infrastructure and other backups fails to take effective steps in its drive to rescue the children and doesn’t succeed in properly rehabilitating them in terms of the directives given by the Hon’ble Apex Court and the guidelines issued by the SOP then we fail to fathom what would be the providence or fate of other states/ districts of the country where good infrastructural facilities and manpower are scant and not adequate.


Case Details

Case No. Writ Petition (Crl) No. 1548 of 2015
Case Title Seema Roy v. State (Govt of NCT Delhi) & Anr.
Date of Judgment 4 September 2015

A division bench of the Delhi High Court comprising of Justices Kailash Gambhir and PS Teji made the above observation while delivering its judgment in a habeas corpus writ petition filed by a woman – Seema Roy whose 12-year old son – Suraj had been saved from the clutches of his employer by an NGO Butterflies. Seema had filed the petition for handing over the custody of Suraj  to her, who was rescued while working at a welding shop at a monthly remuneration of Rs. 400.

Bench was also miffed with the Police when it came to know that it had taken no action against the employer in terms of provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation), Act, 1986.

Petitioner – mother denied that his son was being forced to work and claimed that he had only gone to play outside. However the statement of child confirmed that it was a case of child labour.


Police’s action quite disturbing and unnerving

Considering the role of the police in the process to rescue the children as have been assigned to them in terms of the judgment of Delhi High Court in the case of ‘Court on its own Motion‘ and the SOP issued by Women and Child Development, bench observed that the “picture was quite disturbing and in fact to the level of unnerving it”.


Child Welfare Committees main culprit

Bench also slammed the role of CWC Kalkaji and Lajpat Nagar which were involved in the cases and observed:

the situation [with CWC] was more dismal and pathetic as the Chairpersons manning these CWCs appeared to be totally ignorant about their role and the manner in which they are to discharge their duties in terms of relevant provisions under various statutes, governing the child rights and also the directions given by the Apex Court and this Court in its various judgments and that of SOP issued by Women and Child Development. Moreover, no proper files are being maintained by these committees, in fact, they appear to be the main culprits in both the cases which were brought before the Court.

We are appalled to find that these committees are also adjourning the matters of these rescued children as a matter of routine. It was too shocking to find that when for the first time the case of rescued child Suraj came up before CWC Kalkaji, it adjourned the same for a few days for placing the matter before CWC Lajpat Nagar due to lack of its jurisdiction. Again to our surprise, no efforts were made either by the CWC Kalkaji and CWC Lajpat Nagar to restore the custody of the child to the mother who had been running from pillar to post to meet her child and to know about his well being.


Laws present but no action

Considering that the sufficient laws and actions plan coupled with various judgments of the courts were already in place but still there has been a lack of sufficient action, the bench observed:

In the presence of all this, we ask ourselves, do we really need to give any further direction to all these stakeholders and if so, then what will be the fate of fresh directions, when these stakeholders are adhering to these guidelines more in breach than in compliance.

We do not want to give any further directions as in our view almost every aspect has been taken care of in the ‘Action Plan’ and the said SOP. But then the question arises, if everything is in place, then what problem is coming in the implementation of the same.


Court quotes Kailash Satyarthi

Court remembered Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights and education advocate and an activist against child labour, and observed:

In the words of Kailash Satyarthi, a Nobel peace prize winner and crusader of child rights: “it is a shame that India has the highest number of child labourers in the world.” He further stated that rehabilitation of children must be an integral part of the law itself and children who are free from labour should be entitled to rehabilitation programmes by the Government. He further suggested that the best rehabilitation is re-integration with the family that includes some economic incentive to the parent so that they can earn their livelihood and education can be provided to the children in their hometown.

Directions to the authorities

At the end of the 30-page judgment, bench passed the following orders to the authorities:

a) The Chief Secretary of Govt. of NCT of Delhi is directed to convene an urgent meeting of all the stakeholders to have a complete review of the functioning of all the bodies who are involved in the process and to ascertain the exact reasons as to why they have failed to carry out the said directives.
b) He is also directed to lay down the guidelines issuing necessary directives for fixing the responsibility of the officers so as to make them accountable if there arises any lapse or inaction without there being sufficient or cogent reasons for the same.
c) We also direct him to have proper orientation programmes of all the Chairpersons of CWCs in various districts and of all the stakeholders so that they know their exact duties and functions and their roles as defined under various statutes and other directives.
d) We further direct the Chief Secretary to incorporate all the previous directives and the fresh directives to be issued in the form of a booklet and every department and the officer concerned should mandatorily possess such a booklet, in a bid to prevent any such officer from pleading ignorance of his own duties.
e) We also impress upon the Govt. of NCT of Delhi to come out with a proper scheme to address the issue of rehabilitation of these rescued children by providing some kind of economic help so that the parents or guardians do not force them to work as child labourers again to meet with their basic needs and to supplement their income for their basic survival.
f) We further direct that a meeting in this regard should take place within a period of one month and subsequently, within a period of three months fresh directives shall be issued on the above lines by the Chief Secretary. The Chief Secretary may take into consideration some of the suggestions given by the Advocates, copy of which has already been handed over to Mr. Rahul Mehra, Standing Counsel appearing for the State, so as to ensure that there is no delay in the restoration of the rescued children to their parents/ guardians until and unless it is not in the best interest of the safety of the child which is a paramount concern.

Read Judgment:

 Image from here

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