Juvenile justice?

Kalpana Purushothaman now works with Centre for Child and the Law at National Law School, Bangalore. She has been working with juvenile delinquents for many years now, helping them to get justice. There is not enough being done in this space, but she along with her team at CCL is doing some pioneering work. She wrote this article with the title “Do you need to be a legal expert to be a counselor for juveniles in  conflict with the law?” for a google group of people working on child psychology. She gave us permission to carry this article as I told her that this must reach a wider audience. Please share it widely, and ask those who can help to read – because those children need all the help we can get. Over to Kalpana.

Juvenile justice?
Juvenile justice?

Balaji* was a bright 16 year boy who lived in one of the slums I worked in a few years ago. A smart kid with a lot of questions, he always came up with the most creative excuses for not attending the life skills classes that my team used to conduct in the community. Then one day, Balaji went missing and didn’t turn up for more than 2 weeks. No one knew what had happened to him or where he had gone. We later heard that he had been apprehended by the police for allegedly stealing a bicycle in his area. I never saw Balaji again in my class. I often wondered what had happened to him but didn’t quite know where to look or whom to ask.
It would be years before I began looking for answers. I thought I had nothing to do with the police, the legal system or anyone who got involved in it in any way. I was after all, only a counselor.

The one question that almost every counselor wanting to work with juveniles has asked me has been, ‘so are you a lawyer as well?’. Variations of this question are, “do you need to be a legal expert to work with children in conflict with the law? ‘, ‘oh, I don’t know anything about law, have never been to any court even, do you think I can work with juveniles?

I am not a lawyer. I had no experience of courts of any kind either. What I did have was an interest in working with children. An educational background in rehabilitation science, psychology and counseling helped. Working with an NGO that provided life skills training through various after-school programs gave me the exposure into the lives of children from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds. Through my work I came to know children who trusted me with their stories of abuse, neglect, deprivation and struggle. I was honored to also be allowed glimpses into their stories of change, triumphs over struggles of daily living, transitioning into adulthood and negotiating the myriad turns in the journey of their lives.

What puzzled and often disturbed me though were the occasional stories that floated from time to time, about some of the kids I knew from a few slums in Bangalore where I used to volunteer my time and services. These were the stories about the kids who went missing and when I asked the other children about them, I would be told the police had ‘picked them up’. When I tried to find out more, I would be told they had got into trouble and would either be sent for a ‘work –up’ by the police or to ‘jail’.

I would later learn that ‘work-up’ meant an investigation by the police for a suspected involvement in some crime and that ‘jail’ referred to the “Observation Home”, a place where those alleged to have committed an offence were housed, during inquiries pending before the Juvenile Justice Board.

Today I work as a counselor for juveniles in conflict with the law as a part of the Juvenile Justice team at CCL NLSIU that provides multi-disciplinary services (legal and psycho-social) services, providing counseling services to juveniles alleged to have committed an offence and also to some of their families.

While I do not claim to be a legal expert, knowledge of the law, especially those relating to children, and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 has helped tremendously in understanding the context in which counseling takes place for this particular group of children – namely the legal setting.

What has helped me to become a counselor for juveniles in conflict with the law:
a. A passion for counseling children & adolescents.
b. An interest in working with children in distress, difficult circumstances, disadvantaged backgrounds, etc.
c. Understanding the legal context and settings in which children in conflict with the law are brought into situations of counseling.
d. Intensive volunteering with children from deprived backgrounds, custodial settings, etc. for several years.
My journey with understanding children and childhood is an ongoing one – it started with my own childhood, continued with my training to work with children, intensified when I became a parent and has acquired a different depth through my work with children in conflict with the law. I continue to learn from each of the children I am privileged to know and work with.”

Kalpana Purushothaman
*(Name of the child changed to protect identity)*

(The author is a senior counselor and researcher working with juveniles as part of the Juvenile Justice Program of the Centre for Child & the Law, NLSIU, Bangalore).

*Trigger Questions:*
1. Write to us and tell us about your thoughts on children in conflict with the law and how different would it be to counsel this group of children
2.  If you are already a practitioner working with children in conflict with law in some way, we invite you to share your feedback and personal stories of your work.
We hope this post has encouraged you to reflect more about counseling children in conflict with the law and further triggered your
interest in being part of the movement to ensure mental health rights for children in conflict with the law.

To know more or share your views about this article, write to us on j[email protected]
Centre for Child and the Law (CCL)

NATIONAL LAW SCHOOL OF INDIA UNIVERSITY

Nagarbhavi, Bangalore 560 072,

Ph No: 080 2316 0528

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