LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship is an Online National Summer School Program, a Two-Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness and Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, from June-August 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Enabling Child Protection: Insights from The Goa Children’s Act” was held by Advocate Dr. Albertina Almeida, a lawyer and a human rights activist based in Goa.
She commenced the discussion on the topic ‘Inclusion, Laws and Policies’, pertaining to The Goa Children’s Act, which aims to protect and preserve the best interests of the children. Under the act, there are guidelines and various facets of child welfare including offences that were earlier not recognised under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The act clearly defines terms, that are often interchanged, terms such as child abuse and exploitation. The Act covers areas of education, health, nutrition, child labour, and trafficking. The Act also mandates the appointment of special task forces and inspection teams.
Origin of the Act
The primary intention of the initiation of this act, in the words of Dr. Almeida, was to understand why one must engage with the law only when a child has already been abused. As an organisation, Dr. Albertina and her team have been engaging with the children compositely i.e. in terms of their needs, their requirements, and vulnerabilities. She emphasised the significance of inclusion, which is necessary at two levels- first, at the level of the content of the law i.e. how the law is inclusive in addressing the concerns in respect of that particular subject, and second, to ensure the law is inclusive in terms of the processes, to make sure all voices are taken into account.
The Indian Penal Code had no provision for declaring the ‘sale’ of children as an offence. Only the selling of a child for the purposes of prostitution or a commercial transaction was considered an offence but the sale without establishing a ‘purpose’ was not considered a misdeed. These children were recognized under The JJ Act but not ‘fully’ in terms of their vulnerabilities to various kinds of violations of their rights. Therefore, it was important to have a distinct category for ‘Children in difficult circumstances’, that would ensure that other kinds of vulnerabilities of children would be addressed other than the already recognized ones- such as child labour or sexual exploitation.
Children in difficult circumstances refers to children exposed to or who are likely to be exposed, to child abuse, sexual offences/ child trafficking, or commercial sexual exploitation. These are street children, who are subjected to child labour, children in foster care, differently abled children, or whose parents are divorced.
The Goa Children’s Act: Mechanisms
Children’s Court: This court covers whatever officially constitutes an offence. It is not limited to sexual abuse but also includes other forms of abuse such as the sale of children or the emotional maltreatment of children The next step of the enactment of the Act was setting up the State Commission for Children, the body that monitors how the laws are implemented. Following this was the appointment of the District Inspection Teams, responsible for inspecting the various kinds of homes and institutions that deal with children, to ensure that there is no exploitation.
The Process towards the Enactment
The primary step of any law-making process in the country is the introduction of a bill in the Assembly or in the Parliament, depending on whether it’s a State subject or a central subject.
But often, these technical processes are not people-friendly and exclusive in nature. This calls for the setting up of need-based processes. Dr Almeida elaborated that the existing sexual abuse laws did not take care of sexual abuse of boy children and also did not take into account the enabling/ disabling situations.
The next step was the execution of the Taluka and District Level Processes: CDPO in collaboration with the organisation working on children’s rights issues in the particular taluka/ district. Each organisation worked out their own contacts in consultation with the Taluka CDPO, and workshops were held at the Taluka and District Level with the concerned government department, drawing from the experiences of stakeholders and authorities
Dr Almeida concluded the session by talking about the challenges in law implementation such as the imbalance between the current government and the constituencies of the state. The state often employs tactics which try to isolate people and create divisions within groups, the most common example being the abrupt posting of IAS/ IPS Officers for not being ‘cooperative’ enough with the government in power. Standing up to such enforcement is imperative for the perpetuation of democracy.
Acknowledgement: Shreya Mann is a research intern at IMPRI.
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