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India’s juvenile justice system has not been effective in safeguarding the rights of half a million street children in the capital, according to various enforcement agencies.

This situation exists despite implementation of the landmark Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children) in 2000. Representatives of concerned agencies met on Saturday to take stock of the state of the juvenile justice system in the capital.

Neera Malik, the state Child Welfare Committee(CWC) chairperson at Nirmal Chhaya(West Delhi) juvenile home complex, said, “23 years ago there were 45000 children on the capital’s streets. Now there are as many as 5 lakh and their condition has not improved at all.”

The major problem in the rehabilitation of the children is the failure to address the root causes of the plight of these children – lack of employment for the parents and education facilities for children.

Kamla Lekhwani, the CWC-chairperson at Rohini (north Delhi), said that “most of the street children usually come from dysfunctional or abusive families. In such cases, just sending them back home, is not the solution without addressing the family’s issues.”

Lekhwani said that such children often returned back to the streets and malpractices such as substance abuse and theft also made their rehabilitation difficult.

Returning to the streets, these children often turn theft and substance abuse. Lekhwani said that the abuse of whitener fluid as an intoxicant was rampant among these children.

The CWC-chairperson from south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, Raj Mangal Prasad, informed that even the rehabilitation homes often even tend to reject the street children, blaming their substance abuse as the reason for refusing to take them in.

The discussion was a part of 2-day workshop organised by child rights organisations Childhood Enhancement Through Training and Action (CHETNA) and Consortium for Street Children, to examine the successes and failures of the Juvenile Justice Act.

The act provides a framework for the protection, treatment and rehabilitation of children under the juvenile justice system and is considered a very progressive legislation. Its implementation, however, remains a matter of serious concern.

A video film was also screened, where street children voiced the issues they faced, such as physical and sexual abuse, child labour and human trafficking.

According to Sanjay Gupta, the director of CHETNA, as many as 80 percent children at the workshop identified the government as the biggest stakeholder and demanded that it should work towards their betterment.

Senior officials from Delhi Police were also present at the meeting and presented their perspectives.

Speaking on restoring these children to their families, Deputy Commissioner of Police Shibesh Singh said that “the basic issue that drives children out of their homes is deprivation, and since facilities at the NGOs and childrens’ homes are usually better than those at their own homes, the children often leave home again and return to these institutions.”

Pointing to the lack of personnel for the Special Juvenile Protection Units(SJPU) of the Delhi Police as a reason for reduced effectiveness, Inspector S.S Malhan called for having personnel dedicated to handling juvenile issues.

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