CHANDIGARH, India: Is the State of Punjab guilty of contempt of the Supreme Court and violating the law of the land? Article 21 of the Constitution and the East Punjab Children’s Act of 1949 makes it illegal to hold in jail a person under the age of 16 whether he or she is an under trial, a convicted delinquent or in pro tective custody. In September 1985, social worker, Sheela Barse, applied to the Supreme Court for the release of children below the age of 16 detained in various State prisons. In May, 1985, the Supreme Court ordered the State of Punjab to remove children under the age of 16 from the jails.

At the time of the Supreme Court judgment there were seven children in various jails in the State. In answer to Punjab and Haryana High Court’s directive of March, to furnish complete information on children held in Punjab Jails, the Government submitted a list of 29 children, some of whom were as young as 12 years. In other words, the Government did not comply with the Supreme Court’s order of May, 1986; rather it put 22 more children behind bars in the last 10 months.

Of these five have since been released or bailed out or sent to observation homes but 16 are still incarcerated with hardened criminals. Arguing before Mr. Justice Prithipal Singh, Mr. G.S. Grewal, Advocate General Punjab, maintained that this was done “at the request of the children”.

Three of these children are 12 years old, one is 13, six are 14 and 11 are 15. The district of Amritar, Gurdaspur, Jullundur, Ferozepur and Faridkot each have three children in their jails, Bathinda and Sangrur districts each hold two children, one child is detained in Patiala and one in Ludhiana: The Government has informed the Court that besides the 21 under trials who are less than 16 years of age, there are four children who have been convicted and are serving sentences.

Section 26 of the East Punjab Children’s Act of 1949 requires the officer in charge of a police station to immediately notify the parents whenever child is arrested and the Act also states that the momenta child is produced in any Court the Court must give notice of proceedings against the child and require his parents to attend the Court. If this provision of the Act was ignored, it is a lapse on the part of the Magistrate but ultimately responsibility rests on the State government, specifically the Home Ministry.

The Supreme Court verdict on the Barse case plainly states: “On no account should the children be kept in jail and if a State Government has not got sufficient accommodation in its remand homes or observation homes, the children should be released on bail instead of being subjected to mcarceration in jail. “We would also direct that where a complaint is filed or first information report is lodged against a child below the age of 16 years for an offence punishable with imprisonment of not more than seven years, the investigation shall be completed within a period of three months from the date of filing of the complaint or lodging of the first information report and if the investigation is not complete within three months, the charge sheet is filed against the child’ in case of an offence punishable with imprisonment of not more than seven years, the case must be tried and disposed of within a further period of six months at the outside ‘and this period should be inclusive of the time taken up in committal proceedings, if any”.

Article extracted from this publication >>  April 24, 1987