On Monday, the Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (GSCPCR), issued the advisory for safe surrender in context of infant abandonment cases in Goa, after the state witnessed several such cases in the recent past. The advisory has been released looking at the long-term impact of the same and for greater preparedness and action by all the stakeholders for the protection of the abandoned children.
All the concerned authorities, which are- Director of Women and Child Development, Director of Health Services, and the Director General of Police, have been asked by the GSCPCR to send an Action Taken Report (ATR) within 4 weeks on the recommendations made in the advisory, including specific measures undertaken and implemented to safeguard the rights of the children.
The advisory, as its background, mentions, how between 2017 and 2022, the state recorded 11 perturbing cases of new-born infant abandonment in unsafe places, with 4 of them taking place in 2022 only. Of these, 3 abandoned infants succumbed to the gory aftermath of unsafe abandonments because of dog bites, being inflicted to garbage, etc.
“While the act of abandoning a new-born baby seems heartless and cruel, baby dumping is the end result of various issues that are affecting young mothers who feel they have no alternative. Biological parents, overwhelmed with the belief they have no other option, are leaving their newly born infants in dumpsters, along deserted stretches of roadway, beaches, garbage bins, fields and other open areas”, the advisory reads.
It further states that with the series of incidents of baby abandonment, there is a need for greater prevention efforts and actions for the protection of children by all stakeholders for the future, and that this preparedness and actions will require close-coordinated, multi-sectoral, and collaborative efforts between all stakeholders.
The advisory mentions, “An unwanted child may be thrown away by the parents, causing lifelong physical injuries and mental trauma, assuming the child even survives. Lack of awareness about the law on surrendering unwanted children is a major reason behind infant abandonment issue. Urgent action is required taking into account the constitutional obligations, child protection laws, the UNCRC’s general principles to safeguard the lives and protect the rights of children”.
Next, the advisory focuses on the legal provisions, to help the cause, under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. It states how the act provides a safe haven, i.e., child centric provision (section 35) that allows distraught parents to anonymously relinquish their babies without risk of prosecution or interrogation and ensure that children are pulled out of potentially life-threatening, neglectful, abusive, or dangerous situations by providing an alternative path to their parents/guardians.
The act helps the parent or guardian to safely and legally surrender or relinquish the child at the terminating of their parental rights, because of physical, social and emotional factors beyond their control and making the child visible to child protection agencies which will bring the child into the legal adoption framework, and the surrender ensures that the Child Welfare Committee will take care of the child until he or she is matured or adopted by someone. A child is considered eligible for surrender only after a prescribed process of enquiry and counselling. The disclosure of the identity of surrendered children is prohibited. All reports related to the child are treated confidentially by the CWC.
The advisory adds that no case is registered when a child is surrendered to the Child Welfare Committee constituted under the Juvenile Justice Act, and the authorities, to whom a parent may approach if they want to surrender the child, are the two adoption agencies in Goa, the police, Childline (1098), recognized NGOs, Child Welfare Committee, Primary Health Centres, Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, etc. They would then produce the child before the CWC within 24 hours.
Following the submission of a surrender letter, parents or guardians who want to give up a child are given 60 days to reconsider their decision following which documents such as Aadhar card, and hospital discharge papers are collected.
The advisory for the Directorate of Women and Child Development has asked it to ensure that the specialized adoption agencies in Goa, i.e., Matruchaaya and Caritas Goa, set up at its own, home cradles to receive abandoned children. It has also been asked to spread awareness and organize sensitization programmes for anganwadi staff, as most cases of pregnancies as well as unwanted pregnancies are known to anganwadi workers; to build capacity of anganwadi staff to educate and sensitize the parents and to reduce stigma surrounding abandonment, given their strong network in rural areas.
The Directorate has also been directed to submit annual action plan of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign which aims to end the evil of gender bias and ensure survival of girl child, as many of the recent abandoned infants in Goa were baby girls.
Secondly, the Directorate of Health Services has been recommended that cradles and signage to cradles be put up at various places considered most appropriate to receive such children, i.e., primary health centres, hospitals (government and private), nursing homes, etc to receive new-borns who are unwanted and to put them in child protection system for legal adoption. This signage may be similar to signage of hospital or pharmacy store which his visible from a distance of 24×7 and 365 days.
Finally, the Goa Police has been asked that no FIR shall be registered against any biological parents during the inquiry process in cases of abandoned/ surrendered children, as per section 75 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. This is to ensure that all efforts go into tracing the parents/ guardians without starting any criminal action.
It has been recommended that the section 75 be examined and included in the Standing Order No. 15/2022 – Role of Police Officials in Dealing with Children in Need of Care and Protection and special training be provided to Juvenile Welfare Police Officers of all Police Stations in Goa.