India’s Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) is a centrally sponsored scheme for children in need of care and protection, first implemented in 2009. THE ICPS ostensibly adopts a preventative approach by providing statutory care and rehabilitation services to groups of children deemed ‘vulnerable’. However, the ICPS fails to acknowledge and respond to the risk of juvenile delinquency among vulnerable categories of children, which is topical given the increase in the juvenile crime rate from 6.7% to 7.0% in 2021. As most of these children belong to socially disadvantaged groups, according to a recent National Crime Records Bureau Report, this is a missed opportunity to address the troubling correlation between juvenile delinquency and socio-economic vulnerabilities and to prevent children from becoming involved with the juvenile justice system.
Broadly, there are two target groups for the ICPS: firstly, children in conflict or contact with law; and secondly, children deemed ‘vulnerable’ on the basis of belonging to a socially disadvantaged group (including scheduled castes and tribes, as well as migrant families and other minorities affected by discrimination) or an ‘at risk’ family (encompassing children in extreme poverty, children of infected/affected by HIV/AIDS, orphans, those who have been trafficked or sexually exploited, or the children of people detained in prison, among other vulnerable categories).
Though the ICPS aims to bring child protection services closer to these vulnerable young people, the policy fails to consider – alongside its care responsibilities – the opportunity to identify children at risk of violating laws, and to engage in preventative early intervention programmes. As such, in practice the ICPS is more rehabilitating than preventative: the policy mentions interventions several times, but in fragmented ways that cannot produce holistic solutions.
The policy aims to institutionalise essential services but does not recognise how already institutionalised resources, such as educational institutions, could help to facilitate the goals of the ICPS. Instead, it looks to educational institutions as background resources, rather than a primary tool to reach masses of children via early support provision. Within educational institutions, a child’s behaviour can be monitored over time, potentially providing a safe environment to recognise early signs of engagement with juvenile crime and to institute interventions. Using schools as a site of ICPS policy implementation would be cost-effective and could enhance the psychological wellbeing of vulnerable children.
As a part of the service provided under the policy, social workers and counsellors could be installed in schools and service centres to identify behavioural changes amongst at-risk children. This could lead to early interventions to address problematic behaviour: research suggests that such positive interventions to address disruptive behaviours typical in juvenile offender populations is effective.
As a part of the prevention strategy, a focus on values-based education may also be relevant for vulnerable young people. Social theorist James Hunter notes that moral cultures into which children are socialised can predispose them toward different patterns of behaviour. Community programmes to promote the inclusion and representation of the marginalised sectors could be of importance for children belonging to those communities in order to enhance social cohesion. Such reforms to ICPS policy which centre the prevention of juvenile delinquency would better fulfil the objectives of the policy, supporting and nurturing those young people who are rendered most vulnerable by social oppression.
Want to learn more?
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