Child in need of care and protection is taken into custody by the police

Her name is Nupa Bibi and she is aged about 12 years. She lost her parents, home and relatives how she can’t tell. She was employed by a ‘doctor’ as a domestic worker. She was abused, ill-treated and frequently beaten by both ‘the lord and lady’ of the house so much so that she could no longer bear it and tried to run away even she has nowhere to go. She was found traumatised and wandering in front of the ticket counter of Capital Travels (Pvt.) Ltd. in Silchar, Assam on 28 January, 2010. What will happen to her? Another victim of trafficking? Another of the thousands mentally ill living in the streets of Indian towns and cities? Or whatever you may guess.

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) expressed its deep concern over her situation in a statement and informed that at about 3.30 pm on 28 January, 2010 officials of Silchar Municipality Corporation contacted BHRPC informing that a girl child frightened very much and unable to tell her address properly was rescued. She was intending to board bus for Guwahati to go home in Kokrajhar. Members of BHRPC visited her at the Municipality Office and tried to talk to her. She was indeed frightened. The BHRPC team came to know from her that her father’s name is late Hamid Ali.  She could not tell the name of village but told that she was from Kokrajhar, a district in lower Assam, and she was working as a domestic help in the house of a doctor working in the Silchar Medical College and Hospital, Silchar for about one month. The doctor and his wife (who is also a doctor) had ill- treated her and even sometimes beaten her up, she alleged. But could not tell their names. When this conversation was going on Mr. Arun Singh, sub inspector of police with a constable came from Silchar Police Station and taken her into custody. Answering to the questions of BHRPC members he told that they would examine her by a doctor and would try to identify the person/s accused by the child of ill-treatment and cruel conduct and that is necessary for lodging an FIR. There is nothing to worry about it. When contacted, the O/C assured BHRPC that the child would not be returned to the persons accused by her and he would try to trace her home address and send her safely.

The statement said, at about 7pm another team from BHRPC visited the police station to know about arrangement for the accommodation of the child for the night and progress of the investigation. The OC informed that the child would remain in police custody and sleep in the police station. As to the FIR he informed that it was not registered. He even tried to ‘dwell on the inefficacy of laws criminalising child labour in such cases’.

BHRPC claimed that it offered psychological counselling by its experts and accommodation in a family environment for the traumatised girl with full responsibility in view of the fact that there is no such home maintained by Government any where in Barak valley for children who are in need of care and protection (CNCP) as is contemplated in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. But the OC rejected this offer. ‘He insisted that the law does not allow him to do so, in spite of the fact that even the Indian parliament does not trust the police with women and children as is evident from the proviso to section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, which says “no male person under the age of fifteen and woman shall be required (by police) to attend at any place other than the place in which such male person or woman resides”.’

BHRPC alleged that ‘the police also acted against the law by not registering an FIR on such clumsy pretext that the victim complainant is a minor. Employment of children of less than 14 year old as domestic help is a cognisable offence under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and there is no bar based on the age of the person giving information in section 154 of the CrPC, which makes registration of FIR mandatory if information about commission of a cognisable offence is given to an officer-in-charge of a police station.

There is also constitutional prohibition on employment of children aged below 14 years in any hazardous works in Article 24 and work as domestic servants is notified as hazardous. Violation of this article is violation of a fundamental right. In the instant case another important fundamental right of the victim, namely the right to education is also violated. The governments in India has constitutional obligation to provide free and compulsory education to the children below 14 under Article 21A.

It is also to be noted that India has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the present case a plethora of rights enshrined in the CRC were violated, particularly the Article 15 and 32 which respectively guaranteed the right to the free and primary education and “the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”.’

BHRPC urged the authorities to ensure: ‘1. Return of the victim to her family members with sound physical and mental health as soon as possible. And if a reasonable time is needed to trace her address BHRPC once again offers accommodation for her in a family environment for that period of time with full responsibility. 2. Provision of education and future well being of the child. 3. Registration of FIR regarding the accusation of employment of child labour, assault and battery and other ill-treatment on the victim as alleged;  prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the case and a speedy trial.’

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