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Sheela Barse & Anr. Vs Union of India & Ors.

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Court: The Supreme Court of India.

Citation: 1986 SCC (3) 596.

Case No.: 1451 of 1985.

Case Type: Writ Petition (Criminal).

Judgement Date: 13/08/1986.

Petitioner: Sheela Barse & Anr.

Respondent: Union of India & Ors.


  • Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati.
  • Justice Rangnath Misra.

Statutes Referred: 

  • Constitution of India.
  • Children’s Act.


  • The petitioner filed a petition in the Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India asking for –
  1. The release of children below the age of 16 who were detained in jails of different states of the country,
  2. Production of complete information regarding the children in jails,
  3. Information related to the existence of juvenile courts, homes and schools,
  4. Direction to the District Judges to visit the jails and sub-jails in their jurisdiction to ensure that the children are properly looked after,
  5. Direction to State Legal Aid Boards to appoint duty counsel to ensure legal assistance to the children whenever required.
  • The Union of India and all States and Union Territories were impleaded as Respondents.
  • On 24th September 1985, the Court issued a notice to all the respondents based on the application and a few respondents filed counter-affidavits in response to the notice.
  • However, the matter was adjourned from 31st March 1986 to 15th April 1986 to allow all the respondents to file their affidavits.
  • On 15th April 1986, the Court directed the District Magistrates to thoroughly inspect all the jails, detention centres, remand homes, observation homes, etc. and present a report on the inspections.
  • The Superintended of each jail in the districts was ordered to provide complete assistance to the District Magistrates.
  • The report was to be submitted to the Court within ten weeks.
  • Each State Government was ordered to file an affidavit in Court stating how many remand homes, children’s homes and observation homes for children existed in their respective states and how many inmates were kept in such homes.
  • The State Legal Aid & Advice Board in each state was ordered to send two lawyers to each jail once every week to provide legal assistance to children below the age of 16.
  • The writ petition was adjourned to 17th July 1986.
  • On 24th April 1986, the Court issued a fresh notice mentioning that even though the issue was adjourned until 17/07/1986, the Court felt it would be more appropriate to take up the issue when the Court sits on vacation, and therefore, it was stated that the issue would be placed for final disposal before a Bench of this Court on 24/08/1986.
  • The writ petition was thereafter listed on 12th July 1986, during the long vacation for hearing. The Court found that though reports from several District Judges had come in response to the earlier direction, yet several District Judges had not sent their reports.
  • The Court ordered that every District Judge who had not submitted the report must invariably do so by August 1986. The Court also ordered the High Courts and the Registrar of High Courts to make sure that the District Judges complied with the order of the apex court.


  • Were the children below the age of 16 years adequately treated and looked after in jails?

Contentions by Petitioner-

  • A large number of children below the age of 16 were confined to jails across the country.

Obiter Dicta:

  • It is an elementary requirement of any civilised society. It had been so provided in various statutes concerning children that children should not be confined to jail because incarceration in jail has a dehumanising effect. It is harmful to the growth and development of children. The petitioner had undertaken real social service in bringing this matter before the Court. She had stated to the Court that she intended to visit different parts of the country with a view to gathering further information relevant to the matter and verifying the correctness of statements of facts made in the counter-affidavits filed by the respondent States.


  • All states must ensure that a Children’s Act should be brought into force as soon as possible.
  • States where a Children’s Act already exists must ensure that the same is administered.
  • The Jail Manuals should be strictly complied with.
  • Every District and Sessions must visit the district jail at least once every two months to ensure that everything is up to code.
  • The Union Government must deposit an amount of ten thousand rupees within two weeks in the Registrar of the Court, which the petitioner can draw to meet her expenses.


  • The children are the future of the country. The governments and courts must ensure that even those who have had run-ins with the law are properly looked after.

Prepared by Mihir Poojary.