Re-evaluating best interests


The month has gone by quickly. During the last two weeks, Chris and I have been interviewing social workers at SBT’s various shelter homes, as well as boys from the DMRC shelter home about their life stories and experiences. All of these interviews, along with the ones we did earlier in the month, help to shape our argument for re-evaluating India’s Juvenile Justice Act, particularly the principle that restoration of the child to the family is always in the best interest of the child.

When a child is received at a contact point, a file is opened and social workers at SBT collect information about the child, such as their family and well-being. The case is then passed onto the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), who decides whether the child should be sent back to their families, their home state or taken into SBT’s shelter homes. From all our interviews, we discovered that quite often the CWC is sent back to their families under the belief that the family is always the best for the child. But when these children come from broken, dysfunctional families that render the child susceptible to forms of physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse, can we still say that returning to the family is the best? It seems that it is not so much about family in the literal sense, but the normative conditions of a family – a healthy, supportive environment conducive to the child’s growth and personal development – which should be emphasised when looking at the principle of restoration of the child to their family. It is about being sensitized to these conditions and contexts during evaluation.

Throughout this project, I realised how important it is to step back and reflect what best interest of the child is. Is it listening to the child’s wishes because it is their own life, and they know what it is they want, and what they think is best for their mental, emotional and physical well-being? Do we as adults decide because we are older, experienced more, and therefore know better what is best for the child? How does one negotiate between these two? Aforementioned, it is a matter of being sensitive to these nuances and complexities as we move forward.

Chris and I will continue working on this advocacy report back in Edinburgh. We will continue polishing our legal argument, and emphasise this urgency of change by highlighting the range of vulnerabilities which street children are susceptible to. Eventually, we, SBT and lawyers will present this report to the government, in hope that change can happen and they can be more sensitized to the issues we raise in our report so that the best, and most appropriate form of support and care is given to street children.

To conclude, thank you to everyone at SBT who has supported us in writing this report, particularly Parvati, Devika and Adam who helped to organize interviews for us, and also to all our interviewees who took the time to share their thoughts, experiences and life stories.

Words by Loritta


“Not all stories we know are ours to tell…”


I attended a talk yesterday by Indian author Gayathri Prabhu about her book ‘If I had to tell it again”. It’s a memoir of her relationship with her father, a relationship which was loving and angry, joyful and sad. During audience questions, someone asked her whether she would call her childhood traumatic as she describes a lot of difficult experiences in her book. “No” Gathathri said. She went on to explain that while there were traumatic moments in her childhood, she wouldn’t describe it as a ‘traumatic childhood’ which implies totality of experience.

This resonated with me in respect to the care that SBT provides children. Many of the children have experienced unimaginable loss and trauma during their short lives. Salaam Balaak Trust recognises this, but also sees the joyful freedom of childhood and, I believe, fosters that in every child. I think perhaps Salaam Balaak Trust might be the difference between a ‘traumatic childhood’, and a ‘childhood with traumatic moments’, for many people.

As we come to the end of our trip, I would like to thank everyone at SBT, especially Shikha and the mental health team for their generosity and warmth during our time here. I’ve tried my best to listen carefully and I hope I’ve understood some of the nuances. I’ve been quiet on the blog recently because I’ve had a lot to take in and I’m not sure that I’m ready to share all that I’ve heard and seen, some of it is not mine to share anyway.

But I’ll tell you what I feel to be true: Salaam Balaak Trust provides an essential service in Delhi. The mental health team work tirelessly to restore children to the ‘world of childhood’ and, I believe, they do.

Some of you may be interested in project updates so here’s what I’ve done: I’ve drafted a report about the mental health program encompassing a description of the service and some of the challenges. I plan to continue working with the mental health team to co-author 2-3 academic papers which I hope will draw attention to the value of their work and help other NGO’s working in similar circumstances. I hope to continue working with Shikha and the team for a long time.

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog, we greatly value the support you’ve shown.

                                                                                                                                                               ~ ~Alice