The recent case of a 14-year-old girl who delivered a child just two months after she was rescued from an unauthorised children’s home raises questions about children’s homes mushroooming with hardly any monitoring.
Though police have arrested the pastor, Pradhudas (65), who was running an illegal home near Madambakkam for several years, on charges of child sex abuse, the years of trauma the minor girl suffered cannot be undone.
“Even now, the illegal children’s home was exposed because of a civil dispute over the property on which the home was being run and the opposite party complained to police,” says Zaheeruddin Mohamed, a member of the Kancheepuram district Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
Had the illegal home not been detected, the abuse might never have come to light and the child born to the minor girl would have been brought up as another child in the home. The trauma the minor girl would have suffered during her stay in the home with none to console or counsel her cannot be fathomed.
What is more disturbing is the callousness, absence of sensitivity and inability to realise the seriousness of the issue of government officials.
The social welfare department (SWD) has submitted four different sets of contradictory information on the number of homes for children in the State during an ongoing public interest litigation (PIL). “In September 2014, it stated there were 1,814 homes in the State. On April 6, 2015, it claimed 1,843 such homes had been identified. A fortnight later, on April 20, 2015, it submitted that there were 1,559 homes for children. However, in the affidavit submitted on April 18, 2015 by the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the count was revised 1,543,” says activist A Narayanan, who is the petitioner in the PIL (see table).
While contradictory information raises questions about the efficiency of the authorities in collecting data on and monitoring children’s homes, the other big question is whether so many children’s homes are needed.
According to estimates by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, there are about four lakh children living in homes in Tamil Nadu, which is the highest in the country.
“The main reason is the mushrooming of newer homes opened by private NGOs or trusts in the State. There are strong reasons to believe that most of these homes are run to solicit donations from both domestic and foreign donors.
In the case of the home near Madambakkam run by Prabhudas, Mohamed said most of the children there were taken from their parents by luring them with money.
In August 2013, an instance of human trafficking was reported with similar motives. The city police rescued six children with physical and mental disabilities from rooms in a lodge at Broadway. Enquiries later showed they were trafficked by K Sundar, who claimed he was running a home for destitutes to solicit donations by circulating photos of the children.
Another motive was to imbibe a particular religious belief in small children. A fact finding report by an NGO, Change India, which checked two children’s homes in Trichy and Madurai, found that in both the homes, the children were compelled to learn the Bible and attend religious classes.
“Besides this, the children were always tutored not to mix freely with other classmates in schools and even teachers. They were brought up secluded,” says the report prepared by two masters students of social work.
Shortage of Resources Hampers Crackdown: Child Welfare Panel
“We have to travel by bus to reach places, even if we get to know about an illegal home or abuse of children,” says Dr R N Manikandan, chairperson, Kancheepuram district Child Welfare Committee.
Activists say the inadequate facilities to monitor privately run children’s homes lead to exploitation of the children.
“The main problem is that social welfare and social defense have been clubbed into one department. So officials focus their energies on social welfare schemes like distributing freebies and other social support measures. They seem to have no time for social defense activities like child protection,” says A Narayanan, a social activist who has been fighting against the burgeoning number of unregulated children’s homes in the state.
Narayanan says the government must make Social Defense as a separate department with dedicated manpower. “The Child Welfare Committee has powers of a judicial magistrate in matters of child welfare. But we lack the manpower and support to do what is needed. Our members have all come forward voluntarily for the cause of child welfare. But we are not able to act on all the complaints we receive because of manpower shortage,” says Manikandan.
He says the Juvenie Justice Act mandates that every children’s home must apply for registration with the social welfare department.
“The Child Welfare Committee after inspection recommends approval. However, many of the homes are running without registration and with inadequate manpower, it is making it difficult for us to identify the unregistered homes,” said Manikandan.