He's only 17, but his minor status didn't prevent the authorities from putting Mohammad Altaf Bhat in jail for a month last year. Altaf was one of 85 minors arrested for stone pelting and while there's no criminal case against the Class XI student, the state now wants to ensure that like other states in the country, it does not lock away boys in jail. The government is setting up 6,000 local child welfare committees across the state which will act as an interface between the people and the government.
"This is the right step. Now they can't arrest any minor just like that, they will have to first contact the committee for that," said Altaf, giving a thumbs up to the new system under which minors will no longer be sent to jail but juvenile homes.
The government has come under a lot of criticism for alleged police high-handedness in dealing with youngsters during the Kashmir unrest, but now it wants to reverse that impression and put in place a mechanism.
Since last June, 85 minors were arrested and put in jail in Kashmir after a wave of stone pelting protests followed the death of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani.
"This is the only state in the country where the concept of a 'happy childhood' is enshrined in the state constitution. We hold that supreme and whatever we have to do to ensure it, we will do," said Talat Parvez, the state Mission Director of the Integrated Child Development Scheme.
The panels are expected to be formed by the end of this year. The plan is that their members - who would be drawn from the localities -- would go door to door to spread the word and build trust.
"The government has formed these committees and done justice. There used to be excesses against people in the past. Now the people can directly approach the committees to redress their problems," said Hamid Ul lah, a member of a local child welfare Committee.