Srinagar: Inside a two-room shack in the interiors of Chadoora, a central Kashmir town with thriving businesses, 14-year-old Sameer Malik is worried about losing his job. He fell ill on November 25 and has been forced to stay home since. Living with his mother and two siblings, the frail boy with unkempt hair works at a tea stall in Batmaloo, the Valley’s biggest bus stand.
“I don’t know whether I am still on rolls there. The thought of losing my job makes me restless,” said Malik, bedridden.
The boy was 11 when his father, a labourer, passed away due to lung cancer in 2014, said his mother. His death meant Malik was forced to grow up and shoulder responsibilities for the family – including earning an income. His education was the first causality and within months, his sister had to stop going to school too.
It is for youth like Malik, and children who are abandoned, forced to beg and juveniles who are in conflict with the law, that the Centre in 2009 launched the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) – one of the largest welfare programmes for those in need of financial support and care.
While other states have implemented the ICPS, Jammu and Kashmir, with a high population of orphans – most of them victims of the 27-year-long armed conflict – is yet to roll out the programme.
Sorry state of affairs
In March 2013, four years after the Centre implemented the ICPS, the state amended the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice Act, 1997 for the “welfare of juveniles”. The amended Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children), 2013, provided a detailed road map for the protection of vulnerable children, in line with the central act that was first passed in 1986 and later amended in 2000 and 2006.
Setting up the much-needed magistrate-headed juvenile justice boards to protect the rights of children in conflict with the law and sanctioning child protection officers and observation/special homes in each district were among the measures announced by then Jammu and Kashmir minister of social welfare Sakina Ittoo.
The government was finally seen as taking a towards juvenile care in a region riddled with armed conflict. “Every child in need of help will be mapped to ensure that the state doesn’t fail its duties,” the minister had said.
But neither the previous government nor the present PDP-BJP government have fulfilled this commitment. The issue resonated in parliament as well. In August 2014, Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi informed the Rajya Sabha that no proposal had been received from Jammu and Kashmir for the release of grants under the ICPS in the last six years. A month later, then joint secretary in the ministry Vivek Joshi wrote to the state government asking that the requirements for the ICPS implementation be fulfilled, but there was no response.
While for all these years the state shelved this important welfare programme, from 2009 to December 2016, Rs 2141.50 crore worth of funds have been sanctioned to 38 states and union territories under the ICPS, according to a report by the ministry. The financial norms under the ICPS were revised in April 2014 to enhance grants for children from Rs 750 to Rs 2,000 per child per month.
Jammu and Kashmir is the only state that has secured no funding at all during the first six years of the scheme’s implementation. During 2015 and 2016, however, Rs 1.56 crore was allocated for it – the lowest to any state. The state to receive the second lowest amount was Arunachal Pradesh – at Rs 9.56 crore.
Last year, Tamil Nadu was the best performer under the scheme, utilising Rs 56.38 crore, which accounted for 26.07% of total funding (Rs 216.27 crore) under the programme. West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Madhya Pradesh followed Tamil Nadu in terms of performance, accounting for 13.95%, 9.53%, 9.01% and 4.22% utilisation of total funding under the ICPS. In total, these five states utilised 62.79% of funding sanctioned under the ICPS in 2016, according to the ministry’s report. Jammu and Kashmir got Rs 43.12 lakh, the only state to secure less than a crore.
“Till date we have spent Rs 1.70 crore under the programme and that too on the purchase of furniture and computers. We could never project our budgetary needs to secure more funding due to the absence of a system in place,” said a social welfare department official.
Jammu and Kashmir is among the few states which had been approved 90% central funding, while for other states the assistance is only 75%.
“While other states have made a lot of progress over the years, Jammu and Kashmir has nothing to show, mainly due to the lack of will to implement the programme. Our children continue to be deprived of benefits they are entitled to under this beautiful piece of legislation. It is disappointing to say the least,” said chairman selection/oversight committee and former high court judge Justice (retd.) Hasnain Masoodi. The body was constituted to oversee the setting up of juvenile boards in each district.
The armed insurgency that broke out in Kashmir in the 1990s had a devastating impact on children’s lives. According to the last survey by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Jammu and Kashmir had 2.4 lakh orphans. A 2014 study by Save the Children, a UK-based NGO, came up with the same findings. It revealed that at least 37% of total orphans, 75,480 children, were victims of armed conflict.
A few years ago, the Valley’s noted sociologist, late Bashir Ahmad Dabla, studied socio-economic and financial conditions of 300 orphans. His findings were disturbing. At least 48% of these children faced economic hardships after the death of their father, forcing them to leave school and look for jobs to support their family. Another 22% faced psychological issues.
Importantly, the study found that 87 orphans, the single-largest group from the sample, didn’t receive any monetary help from anywhere, including the government, NGOs or relatives. “This is where the government has failed children in need despite having the avenues,” said another official from finance department. According to him, every beneficiary is entitled to financial assistance of at least Rs 2,000 under the ICPS, which also makes it mandatory for the government to track every beneficiary.
Tanveer Ahmad Dar, former head of Action Aid (Jammu and Kashmir), another UK-based NGO, believes the orphans and children in conflict with the law are often in search of emotional support and home-like care. In such a situation, Dar said, the ICPS could have proven “quite handy”.
‘Abuse of power’
Monetary support is not the only advantage of the ICPS. Since 2008, when the Valley witnessed its first mass uprising, street protests and stone-pelting on security forces have become a regular phenomena. These protests are often joined by minors.
But in the absence of juvenile justice boards, the accused minors are tried in normal courts and often lodged in jails and kept with criminals, though they ought to be sent to juvenile or special homes. In Jammu and Kashmir, anyone below the age of 18 is considered a juvenile.
In some cases, more so since the 2016 uprising, minors have been charged the Public Safety Act (PSA), a controversial law under which an accused can be jailed without trial for six months. In one such case, a 13-year-old boy from Bandipora district was booked under the PSA last November for allegedly pelting stones at security forces and shifted to Jammu’s Kotbalwal Jail. It was only after the high court’s intervention that he was shifted to the Valley’s only juvenile home at Nishat in Srinagar.
“We regularly witness police ignoring the quashing of PSA charges against minors and also court directions for not locking up juveniles in jails,” said advocate Shafqat Hussain, who handles cases of accused booked under the PSA.
Hussain said it was because of the “abuse of power” by police and state authorities that the court had intervened, directing the government to roll out the Juvenile Act. This intervention, however, came after a social activist from Haryana, Tanvi Ahuja, filed a petition in the high court in 2014 seeking the establishment of juvenile homes in each district and treatment of minors conflicting with the law as per the Act.
Ahuja has since died but little seems to have changed on the ground. In August this year, chief justice Badar Durez Ahmad was informed that juveniles were being kept in prolonged custody in jails before they are shifted to observation homes. “In Kashmir, 603 juveniles were arrested, and in Jammu, nine. Some juveniles even said that they were kept in police custody for longer periods and beaten. At times, police register juveniles as adults and there is no legal aid provided to them,” a report in Kashmir Reader said.
Hussain believes the delay in implementation of the ICPS could be “deliberate”. “Once you have a system in place, a juvenile can no longer be booked under the PSA or put in a jail. The law will bring in accountability and expose wrongdoings,” he said.
‘Putting the system in place’
Jammu and Kashmir minister for social welfare Sajad Lone agrees that Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps the state that needs the ICPS the most because of the high probability of juveniles in conflict with the law and in need of care and protection.
“For some reasons, its roll out didn’t take place all these years, but we have started the process now and in the coming months we can be justifiably satisfied that we have been able to get this concept moving,” said Lone, who took charge of the department last year.
Lone has “overcome the first big challenge” of getting independent manpower sanctioned for the ICPS implementation, including its mission director and child protection officers, and over 400 other positions.
But in a region where the state has often come under criticism for the abusing rights of people, including children, it remains to be seen whether the benefits of the ICPS will trickle down to juveniles likes Malik and minors in conflict with the law.
Mudasir Ahmad is a Srinagar-based reporter.