Children live with their parents, primarily mothers, in most Indian prisons. Some children live outside when one or both of their parents or the primary caregivers are in jail. While the number of such kids is small in proportion to the overall number of children dealing with other difficult circumstances, they face massive stigma and denials. Therefore, special intervention is needed from the state to realise their rights. They need additional care, emotional support and protection as they are likely to suffer adverse effects on their socio-psychological development.
To lead the way in this matter, the Odisha government last month came up with specific guidelines for children growing up with incarcerated parents in the state.
The particular set of guidelines came in the wake of the Odisha High Court directives calling for a detailed scheme concerning the children of prisoners residing within or outside jails.
How Odisha Govt Protects The Rights Of Children Of Incarcerated Parents?
Over the years, the Odisha government has been remarkably responsive to issues of children and their rights. It has been working for the Protection of Child Rights, on issues of children and their rights, especially education and schooling, child protection processes and structures at the district level to protect children against child marriage, trafficking and child labour.
As per law, children of incarcerated parents who are between the ages of 0-6, can stay with their parents, which in most cases is the mother. The new guidelines direct that children residing in jails need to be linked with the nearest Anganwadi so the child may access the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). If there are sufficient numbers of children, an Anganwadi needs to be created in the jail premises.
For children living outside the jail, the police or jail authorities need to collect information and ensure care provision. The jail authorities will also ensure that such children are known to the Child Welfare Committees (CWC), and if the CWC considers the child a Child in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP) she/he will be provided with the security and support under different institutional and non-institutional care mechanisms.
According to Sandeep Chachra, Executive director, Action Aid Association-an NGO working for vulnerable children, the cause of concern is that child protection structures do not exist below the district level. He said that it is a major hindrance to protecting child rights and will continue to be for the new guidelines for kids of incarcerated parents living outside the jail.
"In fact, we need child protection structures, not just at the block level, but also at the level of the Gram Panchayat. A child protection officer in each gram panchayat or cluster of gram panchayats, would go a long way in ensuring child protection for all children. The gram panchayat level officer could proactively promote child rights, identify foster parents, monitor the support provided to children in need of care and protection, and help ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children in their territory," Chachra said while speaking to The Logical Indian.
How ActionAid Association Works With Vulnerable Children?
The promotion of child rights and ensuring that every child enjoys their childhood has been at the core of ActionAid Association's long-term engagements with vulnerable communities. The NGO is working to strengthen child protection structures in districts across multiple states to ensure that children at risk of child labour, trafficking and child marriage are protected through proactive prevention processes and effective response by district administration staff tasked with these responsibilities.
Chachra believes that governments and NGOs need to recognise that India has a robust legal framework that has outlined children's rights. He said that child rights are enshrined in the Constitution of India, and there are a host of laws that protect children in various ways. These include the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1987, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
"We also have some flagship policies, including the Integrated Child Development Services, which remains one of the world's largest outreach programmes for early childhood care and development," he said.
"To fulfil the promise our Constitution and our laws make to our children, we need to invest a lot more into implementing policies and laws the protect children, and provide them with health, nutrition and food," he added.
While continuing to remain committed to strengthening processes and structures that protect children and provide them with access to health and nutrition, the NGO plans to run various campaigns at local, regional levels to promote children's fundamental rights.
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission had directed all States to submit statistics showing how many children were with their mothers in jails under their jurisdiction but without facilities that are necessary for their psychological and physical growth and educational upbringing.
Internationally, children of incarcerated parents are recognised as 'orphans of justice' but this recognition does not always translate into the desired attention that needs to be given to this group. This population, on their own, feel under-empowered to advocate for their entitlements.
According to one study, adherence to the colonial legacy of law without any significant changes has also resulted in penal populism without necessarily examining alternative forms of sentencing, which could serve the dual purpose of 'repairing the harm' and mitigating the effect of parental offending on children. More attention to the concerns of these children, and research on their social, emotional and health needs would help improve their status.