Wednesday, May 29, 2024

“Only tiny proportion of reality”: RTI study reveals over 9,600 children imprisoned in adult jails in 6 years

At least 9681 children were wrongly incarcerated in adult prisons across the country between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2021, a study with data compiled using government data accessed using Right To Information (RTI) found.

The report, Incarceration Of Children In Prisons In India, published on May 11 by iProBono, stated that the actual number could be much higher as only 50% of the RTI got a response. Two large states, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal (with the 3rd and 6th highest prison populations, respectively, based on 2022 data), one relatively small state Nagaland, and one UT – Ladakh, did not respond to the RTIs.

“From most other states, we received only partial responses,” the report stated while pointing out the “major lapses” by state prison departments in fulfilling their voluntary disclosure obligations under the RTI Act.

The study is based on responses from 285 district and central prisons out of a total of 570. This also does not include the 749 other prisons from which data were not collected, including sub-jails, women’s prisons, open prisons, special prisons, borstal schools, and other prisons.

Speaking to Maktoob, Gitanjali Prasad, lead researcher and author of the report, the data is only a “tiny proportion of the reality”.

“Any number is too high”

The report, which only includes those who were successfully identified, assumes an average of over 1600 children were transferred out of prisons across the country, every year.

The study also looked at Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) which can prevent the incarceration of children in adult prisons by visiting prisons in their respective districts and identifying inmates who could be children.

2914 children were transferred from adult jail to juvenile homes in Uttar Pradesh, the highest in the country according to data. All five central prisons and 42 out of 61 district prisons (71%) responded to the RTI application.

District Prison Gorakhpur had the highest number of children (294) transferred in six years, despite no JJB visits. Among the five central jails, only Central Prison Naini transferred children– 203 across the period, and 3 JJB visits were made there. In District Prison Badaun, 68 CCLs were identified by the JJB across six years, but no transfers were made. Of the 51 district prisons that responded, visits were made in only 9 prisons based on the data. In the rest, no JJB visits were made and no children were transferred.

In Bihar, the second highest with wrongful incarceration of children, 1518 children were transferred, with the data collected using 34% of the RTI responses. Out of the 42 central and district prisons in Bihar, only 15 responded to the RTI application, including one central prison. Besides these, the study received responses from five sub-jails.

The study noted that the Delhi High Court, in its order in January 2022, observed that based on the Delhi Government’s submission, approximately 800 children in conflict with the law (CCLs) were transferred from prisons to juvenile homes over the last five years.

“Even in Delhi, we found that age was not mentioned in arrest memos. If Delhi is like this, one can imagine the situation in other states,” Prasad said.

Call to build state accountability 

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act, 2015) legally mandates that a child, i.e. an individual who has not yet completed 18 years of their life, who is alleged to have committed an offence, or is found guilty of an offence, be placed in an observation home or a place of safety, or a special home or place of safety.

“Time after time, there have been observations by courts, juvenile justice lawyers who are part of civil society, and by wrongly incarcerated CCLs themselves, that cite wrongful police action as a critical reason for protection of children under the JJ Act, 2015 not being realised,” concludes the report.

The study urges building state accountability and compensation for incarceration. if cases where deliberate misrepresentation is revealed on the part of officials, disciplinary action should be sought against them.

It also recommends that a major checkpoint for juvenility be the Chief Medical Officer (CMO). The Model Jail Manual states that when an accused is presented before them prior to their admission in prison, the CMO can make note of suspected juvenility, and the matter will then be referred back to the court concerned.

“There were only 311 observation homes, 39 special homes, and 36 places of safety, which indicates the appalling lack of infrastructure needed to realise rehabilitation of CCLs, available in much less than half of the country’s districts. This contributes to the incarceration of children in prisons,” the report said.

The study also observed that one of the reasons there have been no JJB visits to prisons in Delhi is that the members feel it is unnecessary since NCPCR is already conducting this exercise. 

“It needs to be made clear to the relevant functionaries that their responsibility to conduct inspections does not end because another entity is undertaking the same exercise, and more importantly, that their statutory obligations to do so remain.”

The data excludes the union territory jurisdictions of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, and Lakshadweep due to the absence of district and central jails there.

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