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Ministry for Child Welfare: WILL IT SOLVE PROBLEM?, By Dr S.Saraswathi, 24 August 2018 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 24 August 2018

Ministry for Child Welfare


By Dr S.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


Reports of organised child abuse going on in child care homes in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and  Deoria in UP is so shocking and unbelievable as to provoke the Supreme Court to initiate immediate action to save the children of India. But, the court’s anxiety is not shared by governments and the NGOs running the homes.


The Union Government, in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, has stated  that a survey of 9,589 child care institutions across the country found that 1,575 inmates had  suffered sexual abuse before they were rescued and brought to children’s homes. But, no further action is mentioned beyond sharing the report with State Governments.


The national social audit of child care homes undertaken under the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is facing difficulties in gathering even bare data. The agency appointed for pan-India mapping and audit of these homes has not even obtained access to these homes. 


True, collecting statistics cannot be the ultimate aim of the survey as the courts remark. The physical and psychological condition of children in the homes must be assessed so as to help formulation and improvement of legal remedies and controlling mechanism, and adoption of necessary social welfare policies and programmes.


A few days ago, the Madras High Court dealing with a contempt of court case against the government for allegedly not implementing a series of instructions issued by the Supreme Court in 2015, had asked the Centre whether the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development could be bifurcated and a separate Ministry created for child development for better focus on development and welfare of children.


The court expressed serious concern over increase in child abuse including “child-sex tourism” in popular picnic spots like Mamallapuram and Goa, and in some cities like Hyderabad, and Kolkata. It was an interim order wherein the judge had remarked, “Unless proper steps are taken, safety of children in this country would be at stake”.


Earlier in July, the Chief Justice of Madras High Court agreed to take up a suo motu PIL petition that alleged district child welfare committees, which should be mandatorily formed under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2005, were not formed in any of the 32 districts in the State. The situation is similar in other States also.


Child abuse is a state of emotional, physical, economic, and sexual maltreatment meted out to a person below 18 years of age. According to WHO, child abuse or maltreatment “constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development, or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power”.


In recent years, child abuse in various forms including sex exploitation has come to the notice of law enforcing authorities and the general public as a common offence perpetrated and often repeated in institutional settings and outside. Children are abused even in children’s homes where they are lodged for safety and survival.


Instances of child abuse in homes run for the helpless and closure of such homes and girls running away from “homes” in fear are quite common. In 2012, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre and State Governments seeking their response to a PIL demanding immediate steps to trace about 55,000 children who had been kidnapped in the previous three years for purposes of prostitution, bonded labour, and removal of organs for trade. The petition sought a direction for setting up of a committee and to take steps to trace the missing children.


The national crime statistics given by the NCRB reports that in 2016, the number of children went missing was 63,407. Worse still, 50 per cent of children missing till 2016 remained untraced. And so, children in homes need protection from their protectors!


This is not the first time that children’s homes are in the news for abuse of their inmates. In 2012, reports of shelter homes turning into “torture chambers” came from Haryana. These “homes’ were actually depicted as “jails” and children lodged there wanted to run away. Suggestions to frame a child protection policy have not worked.


Child abuse is a growing crime which has to be controlled by joint efforts of both governments and people. There is sudden outrage for some days when some gruesome incident comes to light, but is followed soon by apathy and negligence. This has raised the need for creating a separate set up for care of children in every aspect.


It is disturbing to hear that many of the children’s homes are run by NGOs and are supported financially by State governments. It needs no special mention that grant-giving bodies are responsible to ensure that grants are utilised for the stated purposes and recipients are selected strictly on prescribed criteria. Providing necessary monitoring mechanism must be in place.


The National Commission for Protection of Children was constituted in 2007 and State Commissions have been constituted in States as per the central Act of 2005. The Commission has all the powers of a civil court while enquiring into any matter.


The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was adopted in 2012 to protect children below 18 years from sexual abuse and ensure speedy trial of offences against children.  It is gender-neutral. Special POCSO courts have been established but the growing number of pendency of cases only show that the Act is not enough to achieve the purpose. In the beginning of this year, there were 597 courts in the country, almost covering every district working directly under the supervision of the State High Court.


The Law Ministry recently estimated that over 1,000 fast-track special courts were needed across the country to try cases related to rape of children and women. Special public prosecutors, special juvenile police units, and special children’s courts are set up in 681 districts.


Independent ministry for women and child development at the Centre was created in 2006. As its immediate task, it undertook a survey of the dimensions of child abuse and neglect and collected quantitative information to help address the issue in a comprehensive manner. It was then recorded that 19 per cent of world’s children were in India and 40 per cent of them were in need of care and protection.


Children are not capable of asserting their rights and have to be protected by family, school, and society. It is a tragedy when they need protection from their protectors due to prevalence of domestic cruelty, school punishment, social misbehaviour, and gender prejudice and seek external legal and organisational support.


When organisational support for victims of social neglect also fails and exploits children as some children’s homes have done, governments have to take strict action. The argument for creating a separate ministry for children may be valid. But, there is no guarantee that it will solve the problem. For, in most issues our problem is lack of adherence to both State regulations as well as non-State norms. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)






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