Supreme Court: Taking sup motu cognizance of the issue involving protection of children who fall within the ambit of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 from the spread of Coronavirus that is sweeping the world, the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta, JJ issued extensive directions to various authorities.
DIRECTIONS TO CHILD WELFARE COMMITTEES
- Ensure whether a child or children should be kept in the CCI considering the best interest, health and safety concerns.
- Special online sittings or video sessions may be called to consider measures that may be taken to prevent children residing in the Children’s Homes, SAAs, and Open Shelters from risk of harm arising out of COVID 19.
- Gatekeeping or preventive measures need to be considered and families counselled to ensure that institutionalization is the last resort.
- online help desks and support systems for queries to be established at the state level for children and staff in CCIs.
- violence, including sexual and genderbased violence may be exacerbated in contexts of anxiety and stress produced by lockdown and fear of the disease, CWCs can monitor regularly through video conferencing, WhatsApp and telephonically to ensure prevention of all forms of violence.
DIRECTIONS TO JUVENILE JUSTICE BOARDS AND CHILDREN COURTS
- measures to be take to prevent children residing in Observation Homes, Special Homes and Places of Safety from risk of harm arising out of COVID 19.
- Steps to be taken to release all children alleged to be in conflict with law on bail, unless there are clear and valid reasons for the application of the proviso to Section 12, JJ Act, 2015
- Video conferencing or online sittings can be held to prevent contact for speedy disposal of cases.
- Ensure that counselling services are provided for all children in Observation homes.
DIRECTION TO GOVERNMENTS
- Develop a system for how to organise trained volunteers who could step in to care for children, when the need arises.
- Make provisions to ensure that counselling is made available, and that there are monitoring systems in place to prevent violence, abuse, and neglect, including genderbased violence, which may be exacerbated in contexts of stress produced by lockdown.
- Ensure adequate budgetary allocation is made to meet the costs that are likely to arise for the effective management of the pandemic, and that all bottlenecks and procedural delays ar effectively curbed.
- Ensure adequate availability of good quality face masks, soap, disinfectants such as bleach, or alcoholbased disinfectants, etc.
- Ensure availability of adequate food, drinking water, and other necessities such as clean clothes, menstrual hygiene products, etc.
DIRECTIONS TO CCIs
- The Health Ministry has set up new National Helpline on COVID19, which are 1075 and 1800112545. In case of any queries or clarifications related to Coronavirus pandemic, call on this number. In addition, Childline 1098 continues to be operational.
- Staff or any other individual found to be exhibiting symptoms of COVID19 should not be permitted to enter the CCI.
- enforce regular hand washing with safe water and soap, alcohol rub/hand sanitizer or chlorine solution and, at a minimum, daily disinfection and cleaning of various surfaces including the kitchen and bathrooms. Where adequate water is not available, immediate steps should be taken to ensure it is made available through necessary action, including enhancing budget allocation for the said purpose.
- Provide appropriate water, sanitation, disinfection, and waste management facilities and follow environmental cleaning and decontamination procedures.
DIRECTIONS FOR CHILDREN UNDER FOSTER AND KINDSHIP CARE
- Families that are fostering children should receive information about how to prevent COVID19 as indicated above.
- Follow up should be made on their health and psychosocial wellbeing status, and they should be informed of how to do in case of symptoms.
- Spread awareness
- Take necessary steps to practice, promote and demonstrate positive hygiene behaviours and monitor their uptake
- Practice social distancing
- Cleaning and disinfecting rigorously
- Conduct regular screening
- follow procedures established by the Ministry/Department of Health and Family Welfare, if children or staff or other service providers working in the CCI become unwell.
- CCI should have a quarantine/segregated section (where possible) & make alternate arrangements where a quarantine facility is not possible.
- plan ahead with the local health authorities to plan for any emergency that may arise due to the COVID19
Apart from the above mentioned directions, laid down certain directions to ensure the general wellbeing of children during the Coronavirus spread.
[IN RE CONTAGION OF COVID-19 VIRUS IN CHILDREN PROTECTION HOMES, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 354, order dated 03.04.2020]