GUWAHATI, Aug 23: The Annual State Stakeholders Consultation on Child Protection (Round 8), centering on the theme ‘Children in Conflict with Law’, took place on Saturday at the Assam Administrative Staff College in Khanapara, Guwahati.
Mukesh Chandra Sahu, IAS, principal secretary to the government of Assam, department of Women and Child Development, delivered the welcome address, stressing the essential collaborative effort required from all stakeholders, including the police, judiciary, society, and civil society groups, to protect children in conflict with the law.
Dr Madhulika Jonathan, chief of field office UNICEF Assam, highlighted the need for a justice delivery system that prioritises the welfare of children in conflict with the law. She emphasised that detention should be the last resort, and alternative options should be explored. Dr Jonathan urged the creation of a secure environment for children’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Addressing the audience, chief secretary Paban Kumar Borthakur, IAS, termed the consultation as a pivotal occasion. He underlined the role of society in shaping children’s behaviour, drawing from ancient scriptures that advocate different approaches in various life stages.
In his keynote address, Justice Kalyan Rai Surana expressed concern about modern society’s diminished role in guiding children, leading to issues like forced child begging. He called for rehabilitation solutions and the exploration of best practices.
During the consultation, Justice Manash Ranjan Pathak launched the website of the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Gauhati High Court. The inaugural session concluded with the launch of the website and a vote of thanks by Rafique Ahmed Tapadar, registrar (judicial)-cum-secretary, Juvenile Justice Committee of the Gauhati High Court.
Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, and Nagaland shared their experiences regarding juvenile justice system status and children in conflict with the law. The session was chaired by Justice Manash Ranjan Pathak.
The consultation comprised five technical sessions. The first session discussed ‘Children in Conflict with Law: Prevention and Early Intervention’, chaired by Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua. Bharati Ali, co-founder of HAQ Centre for Child Rights New Delhi, also shared insights during this session.
The second session addressed ‘Principles of Diversion with Emphasis on Non-Custodial Alternatives’, chaired by Justice Kalyan Rai Surana. Child rights lawyer Anant Kumar Asthana from New Delhi shared his perspectives.
The third session centered on ‘Right to Fair Trial: Focus on Child-Friendly Procedures’, chaired by Justice Manish Choudhury of the Gauhati High Court. Open discussions featured Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj of the Calcutta High Court.
The fourth session tackled ‘Minimum Age for Criminal Responsibility and Age of Criminal Majority (Preliminary Assessment)’, chaired by Justice Susmita Phukan Khaund of the Gauhati High Court. The director of the Judicial Academy, Assam, Justice Mir Alfaz Ali, also contributed.
The fifth session focused on ‘Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice, and Procedures’, chaired by Justice (Retd.) Mir Alfaz Ali. Dr Anthony Sebastian, executive director of ECHO Centre for Juvenile Justice, Bangalore, shared rehabilitation strategies.
In the concluding session, Lakshmi Narayan Nanda, child protection specialist UNICEF, Assam, launched an e-course on child protection, offering participants an opportunity to explore this vital subject. Harmeet Singh, IPS, special DGP, Assam Police, highlighted the importance of empathy in achieving justice for children in conflict with the law.
Director general of Assam Police, Gynendra Pratap Singh, IPS, stressed the need for a database on missing children in Assam and addressed the rising number of children in conflict with the law due to substance abuse.
Justice Surana of the Gauhati High Court, chairman of the Juvenile Justice Committee, expressed gratitude and emphasised the need for follow-up actions post-consultation.