Calcutta High Court: A Division Bench of Soumen Sen and Harish Tandon, JJ., while addressing a petition stated that,

“…physical and mental health of the children are of paramount consideration and no compromise should be made on this score.”

Court directed the Principal Secretary, Home Department to be present in view of the alarming rise in child trafficking and child rights abuse.

Advocate General for the State, Kishore Dutta apprised the Court with regard to physical and mental health conditions of the children at all the Homes.

Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare submitted in their report that the ratio of children and councillors (i.e. 50:1) is more or less maintained in all the Homes except few homes where the number of Councillors possibly have not been increased, as the number of children in such Homes had never exceeded the sanctioned strength.

Court has also been informed that the Councillors whose service for the time being had remained unutilized due to reduced number of children in various Homes may be deployed in other Homes or rearrangement could be made from the Councillors functioning in a particular district depending upon the necessities and exigencies of the situation.

Bench called for a report from the Secretary on the following aspect:

Government should maintain a list of Councilors in each district on the basis of the sanctioned strength of each Home so that when the sanctioned strength is reached the children do not suffer due to lack of counselling.

all the children be in homes or with their parents during this time require constant monitoring and their safely and security are of paramount consideration.

Secretary, Department of Health in his affidavit had disclosed the performance and the good health practice initiated by the said department for the children of the migrant workers.

Bench explained to Secretary, Health Department, the details that would be required with regard to the institutional quarantine, home quarantine and what exactly would mean with regard to the expression “Higher Referral” and “other specific action taken”.

Further the concerns that were placed before by the Court were as follows:

  • Why the mental health support was provided only to 13603 children out of 29658 and COVID-19 test was carried out only in respect of 3005 children?
  • Infrastructure of the Institutions, which were designated as institutional quarantine centers including the number of Doctors and Councilors attached to such quarantine centers.

Court directed Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare to file an affidavit in the above regard.

Bench observed the following:

a report has been filed by a NGO “Bachpan Bachao Andolan” before the Supreme Court wherefrom it appears that 136 minor girls being married off in Bengal due to the lockdown and the devastation caused by cyclone Amphan. An apprehension is expressed that on lifting of lockdown there is likely to be a massive spurt in child trafficking – for labour and commercial sexual exploitation. The State of West Bengal has many porous districts and incidents of child trafficking are not uncommon. The middlemen are quite active in some of these porous districts of Bengal.

In view of the above, Court stated that it would be failing in its duty if they cannot protect the children from any kind of abuse including their exploitation.

The children are most vulnerable class and susceptible to be trafficked either in lieu of a better future or for economic sustainability of the family, which they belong to.

It is a common perception that the natal family is the safest heaven of the younger children yet they are trafficked by the family itself because of the poverty and uncertainty of the social stability. The exodus of the migrant labourers due to pandemic have exposed these younger children to be trafficked for some monetary gain and sustainability in life.

West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights report is alarming where child marriages and trafficking have been reported.

 Court directed Panchayat Pradhan of all the panchayats to sensitize the districts about the child rights and evils of child marriages.

Secretary, Labour Department was also directed to file a report as to the steps taken to prevent child labour.

Matter to be further considered on 18th June, 2020. [Contagion of COVID-10 Virus in Children Protection homes, In Re; 2020 SCC OnLine Cal 974; decided on 10-06-2020]

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