9,681 Children Wrongly Incarcerated in Adult Prisons, Says Study

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The report ‘Incarceration of Children in Indian Prisons’ uncovers alarming figures of wrongful detention amid calls for state accountability

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI – A recent study conducted by iProBono titled “Incarceration of Children in Prisons in India” has brought to light a troubling reality: Children are being wrongfully detained in Indian prisons at an alarming rate. The study, published on May 11, reveals shocking findings that underscore systemic failures in the country’s juvenile justice system, sparking urgent calls for reform and accountability.

According to the report, which analysed government data obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, at least 9,681 children were found to be unlawfully incarcerated in adult prisons between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2021. However, this figure likely represents only a fraction of the actual number, as only half of the RTI requests yielded responses, indicating significant transparency issues and data withholding by state prison authorities.

The study highlights Uttar Pradesh as having the highest number of cases, with 2,914 children transferred from adult jails to juvenile facilities. This revelation underscores a widespread lack of adherence to protocols established by Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs), which are crucial for identifying and transferring underage inmates to appropriate settings.

Lead researcher Gitanjali Prasad emphasised the gravity of the findings, stating, “This data represents only a tiny proportion of the reality.” The study exposes systemic deficiencies within the criminal justice system, where children’s rights are frequently disregarded, leading to wrongful incarceration and a failure to safeguard vulnerable individuals.

Syed Arshad Mehdi, a prominent social activist associated with the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement), expressed deep concern over the findings. “It is worrying and surprising,” he said pledging to engage with his organisation’s legal team to explore avenues for assisting these children, He also highlighted the prevalent abuse faced by economically disadvantaged and vulnerable youth.

The report calls for immediate action to address these glaring disparities, advocating for stricter enforcement of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. It urges state authorities to prioritise the rehabilitation and protection of children in conflict with the law, emphasising the need for robust infrastructure and resources to support their well-being.

Additionally, the study underscores the crucial role of Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) in identifying juveniles at the time of arrest, stressing the importance of early intervention to prevent wrongful detention. It also emphasises the necessity of accountability measures, including disciplinary action against officials found guilty of deliberate misrepresentation or negligence in handling juvenile cases.

The findings have prompted widespread calls for enhanced transparency and accountability within the criminal justice system, with a renewed focus on prioritizing the rights and welfare of children. The study serves as a stark reminder to policymakers and stakeholders, urging them to take immediate steps to address systemic flaws contributing to the wrongful incarceration of children in Indian prisons.

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