Juvenile justice is non-existent in conflict-ridden parts of India. Children are treated as adults and many are subjected to gross human rights violations claims a scathing report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights.
In November 2010, Soumen Mohanty, then 17 years of age, was arrested by the Orissa police under the Explosives Act for aiding Maoist rebels. He was reportedly tortured in custody and was subsequently released after activists took up his case before the state human rights commission. State authorities were ordered to pay him 800 euros (50,000 Indian Rupees) in compensation.
Like Mohanty, 12-year-old Dipak Saikia [not his real name] of Sanitpur village in the northeastern state of Assam was allegedly dragged out of his house by around six police officers for no apparent reason and tortured late 2009.
He, too, was illegally detained and only released after many months of pressure from civil society.
Kids treated as adults
Several such cases of arbitrary detention and torture, instances of sexual assault and even rape by the security forces has been documented in a damning report titled "Nobody's Children: Juveniles of Conflict Affected Districts of India," recently released by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).
It also mentions girls who have faced sexual violence from law enforcement personnel in Andhra Pradesh and the northeastern state of Tripura.
"Many conflict afflicted districts do not have observation or special homes implying that juveniles are taken into custody and kept in police lock up and camps of the army and paramilitary forces in clear violation of the Juvenile Justice Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child," Suhas Chakma, ACHR's director told DW.
The organization's research further revealed that in 197 districts of India, officially deemed affected by internal armed conflicts and noted as "disturbed" under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and over 100 districts declared affected by left-wing extremism, the edifice of the juvenile justice did not exist.
"This is a really serious situation. Juveniles in conflict affected districts do not seem to be anybody's priority and they are being denied equal access to the juvenile justice provided to their counterparts in the rest of the country," Chakma said.
Jammu and Kashmir worst hit
According to the report, the situation of juveniles was worst in conflict-ridden Kashmir. This first ever documentation on the juvenile justice situation states that minors in Kashmir continue to be illegally detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), under which they can be kept in "preventative detention" for up to two years.
In the absence of juvenile facilities for under-aged boys and girls, minors are locked up in prisons with adults.
This report is just the tip of the iceberg. Children are being exploited by both police personnel and militant groups. And unless the government wakes up to this alarming state of affairs, it will only get worse, Subhas Mahapatra, a rights activist from Orissa, told DW.
The eastern state of Orissa is one of the 12 Indian states affected by Maoist violence.
Activists have recommended to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and respective state governments to allocate financial resources to establish special homes as well as to report cases of arrest, detention and torture of juveniles.
"We must declare this situation as an emergency. This is not a specific civil unrest. This is systemic across the country," Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, a child rights activist, told DW.
Ironically, the report comes at a time when there has been a fierce national debate with respect to lowering the age of adult criminal responsibility in wake of the gruesome rape of a young woman in December last year in Delhi.