A crying shame: sexual abuse in children shelters
The recent scandal in Haryana is just the tip of a shameful iceberg. Rape, stripping, beatings, forced abortions are routine in child care institutions across the nation.
"Sickening" and "shocking" is how National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) described the state of affairs at 'Apna Ghar', a shelter home in Rohtak, Haryana. A four member committee, constituted by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, found that sexual abuse, forcible stripping, pornography and even forced abortion were common in the shelter home, which now has been sealed.
"Every inmate, irrespective of the age, was forced to consume liquor at night, especially on the occasion of Holi. The caretakers used to put Holi colours on their private parts," mentioned the report, among other findings, based on interviews of 101 inmates, who have been shifted to 12 shelter homes across Haryana.
Apna Ghar is an example of everything that can go wrong in a shelter home housing children. But more alarming is the fact that the Rohtak shelter home is not an isolated case. Increasing cases of child abuse in Child Care Institutions (CCIs), say experts, are an indicator of systemic failure.
Experts say that for roughly every reported case of sexual abuse in a CCI, there are ten unreported cases. Incidents of sexual abuse in CCIs are not reported unless an insider blows the whistle or an exceptional event exposes the tormentors. In the case of Apna Ghar, three inmates escaped to recount their tales of abuse. A medical examination of a 11-year-old girl who died in Arya Orphanage in Delhi in December 2011 confirmed rape.
According to a report of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, there are at least 638 homes (meant for short and long stay) across the country registered under the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 (JJ Act). More than 29,000 children live in such homes. But there is no data on the number of homes not registered under the JJ Act.
The Asha Bajpai committee, formed on the order of the Bombay High Court in 2010, did a survey of 23 Mumbai Development Corporation homes. The committee noted that over 59 per cent of MDC Homes in the State were not registered under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000.
"The problem is compounded by the fact that even homes without the required registration papers receive government grant-in-aid," said the report.
Nearly 60 per cent of MDC Homes were managed by trusts that do not meet the requirements of the state department of women and child development, according to the Bajpai report.The Delhi High Court ordered similar assessment on June 1, 2012.
The JJ Act, 2000 and Rules demand quarterly inspections in CCIs or homes by the inspection committee, monthly meetings of management committees, and quarterly inspection by Child Welfare Committee members. Not registering a home under the JJ Act allows a home to escape such scrutiny.
"It is common to see such institutions resistant to getting registered under the JJ Act. Non-registration means they can do anything behind closed doors. There is no reason why they (shelter homes) should be allowed to operate like this. They are not above the law," said Dr Bharti Sharma, former chairperson, Child Welfare Committee.
Arya Orphanage is an example of what happens in non-registered homes. A former inmate of Arya Orphanage told Firstpost on the condition of anonymity that the caretaker used to read all the complaints received in the complaint box before taking a selected few to the manager of the home.
"There were kids, very few of them who complained about regular viewing of porn in the institute and the caretakers using foul language with them. None of these complaints made it to the managing committee," he said, pointing to lack of effective complaint mechanisms in such institutions.
JJ Act mandates the formation of children's committees in all institutions- a platform where children can get their complaints on record and demand action.
"Even government homes do not have children's committees in place and where they exist. The result is that victims of sexual abuse in institutions do not report these incidents because they know that nobody will come forward and stand by them and that institution is the only available support for their survival and existence," said Anant Asthana, a lawyer who specialises in child rights cases.
Most institutions do not have a child protection policy in place and it isn't a requirement under any law for child care institutions to adopt such a policy. There is a policy document through which the NGO running the children institution elaborates how it would ensure protection of children. Found in selected NGOs in the country, child protection policy is in additional to the do's and don'ts prescribed under the JJ Act.
"Some donors give funds to NGOs only if it has a child protection policy in place. The government does not insist on any such conditions. In fact, even the inspections carried out before granting a license to an institution does not look at these aspects," said Bharti Ali, Co- Director, Haq Centre for Child Rights. It is no surprise then that children remain entirely at the mercy of the staff managing these homes.
A study sponsored by Maharashtra DWCD, covering 92 institutions, revealed that children largely perceived homes as jails where methods to discipline them involve beatings. The hardest things to bear, children told researchers, were the lack of interaction with staff and the lack of information.
"45 per cent of all children said that the probation officer had never called them to discuss or explain anything. The staff does not understand us, was the cry of 70 per cent of the children in conflict with the law and half the children in need of care of protection," noted the study.
A 2007 study of CCIs done by National Institute for Public Cooperation and Child Development found the most common diseases among children were tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. However, CCIs lack trained staff and required orientation to deal with complaints of sexual abuse.
About the attitude of shelter homes' staff towards sexual abuse of children, the Asha Bajpai report said, "They believed that children with mental disabilities do not understand sexual needs. Further, they felt that they were vigilant enough to ensure that staff does not sexually abuse children.
Thus, none of the homes had anticipated the need for systems to prevent/deal with sexual abuse."
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