Sheela Barse v. Secretary, Children Aid Society & Ors (1987 AIR 656)

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  1. Justice P.N. Bhagwati
  2. Justice R.S. Pathak


Petitioner- Sheela Barse

Respondent- Secretary, Children Aid Society & Others


“True freedom requires the rule of law and justice and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.”

Jonathan Sacks

It is not that only elders indulge in crimes. Sometimes, even children fall into the pit and commit crimes. Generally, our law attracts adults, so does it take into account juveniles also? Are these juveniles committing crimes treated the same way as other criminals? Does the law aim at punishing these juveniles or rehabilitating them? 

In India, there are many laws and child care institutions that govern juvenile delinquents. Acts like the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 defines a ‘child care institution’, providing shelter and care to children who are in need of such services. The children who conflict with the law are given shelter in observation homes when they are kept away from their parents or guardian and are given temporary care and rehabilitation. Places of safety are also a type of child care institution where children between 16 to 18 years who are found guilty of committing heinous offenses are kept.

These observation homes are made for a special purpose, especially for the juveniles, because no person is not considered a criminal by birth and there are slight chances of improvement at a young age. These special homes are made to support the child during the period of inquiry. Every child is given proper treatment with counseling sessions, vocational training, understanding their needs and interests, and mental and physical health. 

However, it has been observed with time that certain observation homes are not working properly and they are making these children a source of remuneration by indulging them in employment activities. This case of Sheela Barse highlights this issue and provides certain guidelines that need to be followed in every State. 

Background of the Case

The appellant, Sheela Barse, a freelance journalist and a member of the Maharashtra State Legal Aid and Advice Committee, filed a writ petition in Bombay High Court, made a grievance about the improper working of the New Observation Home located at Mankhurd, maintained and managed by Children’s Aid Society in Bombay. 

In her petition, she raised a concern about the improper working of the Observation Home. The petition stated that the Observation Home is managed by Children’s Aid Society which is registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and is treated as a public trust under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950. Various designations in the Observation home are:

  1. Chief Minister of Maharashtra is the ex-officio President 
  2. Minister of Social Welfare is the Vice-President

The Society receives grants from the State and has now set up a Remand Home at Umerkhadi in Bombay, hereby, it is run as An Observation Home under the Bombay Children’s Act, 1948. It is currently running three Observation Homes in Bombay. 

The respondents came up before the Bombay High Court and denied the allegations raised in the petition. The High Court disposed of the writ petition by issuing some directions. The Court passed the judgement by declaring some of the allegations as unjustified while others as justified. 

Facts of the Case

Aggrieved by the decision of the Bombay High Court, Sheela Barse decided to file an appeal in the Supreme Court, challenging the judgment of the High Court. In the petition, she raised concerns on the ground that the High Court had failed to consider some of the contentions. These contentions included the following issues:

  1. The children staying in the Observation Homes are forced to work without remuneration and are engaged in hazardous employment.
  2. There were instances where Observation Homes assigned work to private entrepreneurs to make financial gains for society. 
  3. The Society should be treated as a State and not as a voluntary organization under the Constitution of India.
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The appellant stated that the High Court did not consider the follow-up and its directions are not adequate. 

Issues of the Case

There are two issues involved in this case:

  • Whether the Children’s Aid Society falls within the ambit of ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution?
  • Whether the employment of children without remuneration in Observation Homes is legally valid?

Provisions and Statutes referred

The following statutes and provisions are used in this case:


  1. Bombay Children’s Act, 1948
  2. Societies Registration Act, 1860
  3. Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950


  1. Article 12 of the Constitution of India, 1950- Definition of State
  2. Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950- Right to Life and Personal Liberty
  3. Article 24 of the Constitution of India, 1950- Prohibition of Employment of Children in Factories, etc. 

Arguments on behalf of the Petitioner

  1. That the High Court has not considered the follow-up properly and has given inadequate directions. 
  2. That the High Court has not considered the mandatory provisions of the Children’s Act and the Constitutional provisions like Article 21 and Article 24, and other relevant provisions mentioned under the Directive Principles of State Policy.
  3. That the Respondent no.1, that is, the society must be treated as a State and not a voluntary organization. 
  4. That the High Court should have ensured via their judgment, the relevant amenities-related provisions for the proper upkeep and upbringing of the children in the Observation home that was acting as the protector of the helpless children.
  5. That the order of the High Court regarding illegal detention of the children was inadequate. 

Judgment of the Case

The Hon’ble Supreme Court declared the judgment on December 20, 1986. The judgment was pronounced by a two-judge bench. The Apex Court expressed concern over the children of our country. The Court said that children are the future of the country and they should be brought up properly so they turn out to be responsible and good citizens. The importance of children has been recognized in recent times through various provisions and statutes. 

Order with respect to Probation Officers

The Supreme Court stated that it is necessary for the officers at different levels to perform their statutory duties conferred upon them by the Statute. They should be given proper training and should be called upon to handle a situation when they have the requisite capacity. The Court added that the Probation officer of the Observation Home must be duly motivated. The officers must have a working knowledge in psychology and a sense of keen observation. 

Order with respect to Judicial Officers

The Court ruled out that dedicated workers must be kept in Observation Homes and they must be trained properly. Also, the Juvenile Court should be resided by a judicial officer with proper training. As per the judiciary scheme, a judicial officer must have a sensitive-approach and must be competent to handle juvenile cases.

Order with respect to Children 

The Court said that the children must not be kept for a longer period and as long as they are there they should be kept occupied in a way that brings about adaptability in their life. Such occupancy must bring self-confidence in them.

Order with respect to considering the Society as a State under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution

In this issue, the Court held that the Society should have been treated as a State under Article 12 of the Constitution of India. This has been determined by considering the test laid down by the Hon’ble Court in previous cases. Thus, the respondents need to operate in a manner such that they satisfy the requirements of Article 21 and Article 24 of the Constitution and also the Directive Principles of The State Policy. 

Order with respect to employment in Observation Homes

The Court ruled out that the employment of children in the Observation Homes without remuneration is not illegal. 

Therefore, the Hon’ble Court concluded the judgment by directing the State of Maharashtra to take instant action to enforce the law and act in accordance to fulfill the requirements of the constitutional obligations. The Court, further, directed to pay an amount of Rs. 5000/- to the appellant, Sheela Barse, and the observations made in furtherance of criticizing the appellant must be deleted. 

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Analysis of the Judgment

This was a landmark judgment in which the Hon’ble Supreme Court considered the appeal by the freelance journalist Sheela Barse. In this case, the Court pronounced a remarkable judgment that helped in protecting the rights of juveniles. The Court also specified certain guidelines and regulations and explained the importance of children for the future of the country. This judgment was reliable, accurate, and just in terms of defining the duties of an organization. 

The Court, in a precise judgment, acknowledged that the High Court was not very accurate with its judgment. The High Court failed to give due regard to the mandatory provisions but the Apex Court looked into it and corrected the mistakes made by the subordinate court. The Court talked about the duties and qualities of the probation officer, the judicial officers, and the workers. Thus, the Apex Court pointed out the flaws and also corrected each of them along with relevant additions and provided this judgment congruously. 

Cases citing this Case

  1. R.D. Upadhyay v. State of A.P. & Ors.[1]– This case concerned the children residing in jails with their mothers, either because they are very young or they do not have anyone to look after them. The environment in jails is not suitable for them to develop. The Court, in this case, cited the instant case by highlighting that children are the citizens of the future era and our Constitution gives priority to the best interest of the children. 
  2. Jane Antony v. V.M. Siyath[2]This case dealt with the rights of illegitimate children born to Christian parents. It was held in this case that there was no rationality in denying the illegitimate child the right to inheritance. The Court further directed the Central Government to enact a law conferring rights of all illegitimate children, irrespective of their religion. 
  3. Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A.K. Chopra[3]– In this case, a female employee was harassed by her superior. So, the instant case was cited to give regard to the International Conventions and Norms for construing domestic laws more so there is no inconsistency between them, and in case such inconsistency arises, the domestic law shall be void. 


“Rehabilitation happens when teenagers are forced to connect to their communities and confront their mistakes.”

Joaquin E. Diaz De Leon

Children are the future of any country, so a country should be very accurate in taking care of them. It is not that they will not violate the law or work in conflict with the law, but they should be treated differently and with proper training, so they turn out to be good citizens. Here, the major role has to be played by the caretakers of any country, that is, the higher authorities. They need to have laws in the country that protect the children who commit any crime. Such law must be in favor of the children, such that they are not ill-treated, rather they should focus on the development of such children. The Government of India has taken certain steps to work for the proper upbringing of such children in their country. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration of Child Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations has cited various provisions for the betterment of children, and India being a part of this international charter is bound to implement these provisions in the country. Thus, it is important for the countries to take care of the children who are kept in Observation Homes to rehabilitate and there should be proper facilities for their counseling, training, and other corrective measures.  

[1] W.P. (Civil) 559 of 1994.

[2] 2008 (4) KLT 1002.

[3] 1997 IVAD Delhi 646.