16November2018

Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands

The Challenged, Orphans At Higher Risk In Shelters!

By Gajanan Khergamker

It has been a while since Mumbai’s Panvel orphanage horror tales made headlines. The 19 physically and mentally challenged girls, who reportedly suffered abuse at the hands of the caretakers and other employees of KalyaniMahila and BalSevaSanstha, a shelter home in Panvel, deposed in front of the court one by one.

It may have been a shock to see people who are supposed to take care of these children indulging into such a heinous act but this is not the first time such a crime has happened in a shelter home in India.

MENTALLY UNSTABLE CHILDREN ABUSED

Around the time, the Panvel shelter home incident came to light, an almost similar incident was reported in the Home for Mentally Deficient Children in Mankhurd. Here, unlike in the Panvel shelter home, the children were reportedly abused by older inmates of the home.

Though the Mankhurd shelter home was meant for children only, there were only 22 boys under 18 years of age at the time these incidents was reported. The rest of the inmates were adult which included some as old as 60, who stayed back at the shelter as they didn’t have anywhere else to go after they came of age.

RTI REVEALED HOME ‘UNINHABITABLE’

And, if these stories are not enough, there is evidence of thedeplorable conditions in which children live in various shelter homes all over India.

An RTI query filed by BachpanBachaoAndolan revealed over 1,800 children fled various shelter homes in Delhi over the past few years. The data related to the period from 2006 to 2010.

The information provided by the Women and Child Development Department of the Delhi government related to 26 shelter homes, both statutory and non-statutory.

Reportedly, the query revealed that 10,600 children residing in the 26 shelter homes over four years of which as many as 1,807 children escaped because the condition of the shelter homes was ‘uninhabitable.’

During the four years, 29 children had died out which 28 were from the same shelter home. It was reported that 807 children had escaped from a single non-government organisation - Prayas.

According to the Andolan which filed the RTI, Delhi has 37 state-run and 17 non-government shelters as well as observation homes for homeless children with a total capacity of 3,000. Reportedly, there are more than 10,000 children who live on Delhi’s streets. These children who are mostly picked up from the streets or rescued from employees are brought to these shelter homes so that they get a normal childhood. Instead, they are put up in these shelter homes where their condition is such that they run away from there not out of choice but for lack of it.

Back in Mumbai, the conditions aren’t any better when it comes to shelter homes. When a couple of cases of child abuse in shelter homes surfaced around a year back, the High Court appointed an apex committee as amicus curiae to look into the functioning of various shelter homes for mentally-challenged children in Maharashtra and the conditions of their inmates. The committee, led by DrAshaBajpayee, TISS faculty, submitted its report in July 2011 and the revelations were shocking to say the least.

Only 20 of the 35 districts in Maharashtra have homes for mentally-ill children. And, the report indicated the basis on which these shelter homes were opened were ‘suspicious’.

MOTIVE OF SHELTER HOMES ‘DUBIOUS’

The report said that “When a home is sanctioned in any district, a cut has to be paid to the Directorate of Women andChild Development (DWCD) officer and also to Child Welfare Committee members in the district.” It also questioned “the mushrooming of homes” over the past two year. “This is done for political considerations and it is not in the interest of children,” the report suggested.

According to the study, three homes had been shut down following revelations of sexual abuse, malnutrition and death of children owing to carelessness of the officials. Allegations of financial irregularities too had surfaced.

It also mentioned that none of the staff at any of the homes was even aware of signs of child sexual abuse. The report also alleged that children are transferred from one home to another ‘like cattle’ without the knowledge of CWC members which is a contravention of the rules.

And, if any child is seriously ill or there is a probability of his/ her death, s/he is transferred as no one wants to deal with death, the report said.

PAEDOPHILE BRITS RUNNING HOME ACCUSED, CONVICTED

Sometime back, two British nationals, Alan Waters and Duncan Grant, were arrested and convicted for sexually abusing boys at Anchorage Shelter Home for street children they ran in Colaba.  Although the first case of children abuse by these Britons surfaced in 2001, it took years for them to be convicted for their crime. The duo were first found guilty in 2006 but were later acquitted by the High Court in 2008.

However, their acquittal was revoked by Supreme Court in 2011 after which they were sent to jail where they completed their sentence and deported to UK the same year.

...AND THE ABUSE SAGA CONTINUES UNABATED

The latest case of child abuse in a shelter home came up in Rohtak, Haryana.

It was reported that around 100 inmates of the government-aided shelter home, ApnaGhar, which is in the Chief Minister’s constituency, alleged gang rape and abuse by government official and police officers. It was alleged that women were forced into prostitution and pregnant women were being tortured to induce abortion.

Jaswanti Devi, who runs the shelter, was arrested along with three relatives. There are allegations of her being given ‘special treatment’ so that she doesn’t reveal the names of officials involved in the barbarous act.

This horrid tale came out when two women inmates escaped from the shelter home in May last and narrated the stories to the National Commission for Child Rights after which a PIL was filed.

Most of these incidences surface after years of abuse the shelter home inmates go through and there is no guaranteeing how many such “shelter homes” actually serve the purpose and are not just an ‘official’ cover for abusing helpless children and women.