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Indian children's homes under abuse spotlight

Published Jul 11, 2012 04:11am


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The mother of an 11-year-old girl who died in a New Delhi children's home in December 2011 and was later found to have been sexually abused, holding a picture of her daughter.—AFP Photo
The mother of an 11-year-old girl who died in a New Delhi children's home in December 2011 and was later found to have been sexually abused, holding a picture of her daughter.—AFP Photo

NEW DELHI: A series of sex abuse scandals at orphanages and shelters in India has sounded alarms over the management of children's homes, many of which operate with little or no public oversight.

Criminal charges against staff at a number of homes have highlighted what activists say is a pervasive culture of violence that begins with carers abusing their wards and ends with older children assaulting younger children.

In a case that attracted national media attention, a post mortem on an 11-year-old girl who died of vomiting and diarrhoea in a home in Delhi last December, showed that she had also been repeatedly sexually abused.

Police opened an investigation into the running of the Arya Anathalaya home and requested the assistance of a local non-profit, the Haq Centre for Child Rights.

“Our first impression was that it was a clean, big place, with well-fed kids,” said Bharti Ali, co-founder of the Haq centre.

“Then we spoke to the children and many told us they got beaten up regularly by the wardens,” she told AFP.

The Haq centre recommended a series of institutional changes, all of which were rejected by the Arya Anathalaya management.

Police have since filed rape charges against a 25-year-old security guard at the home as well as a 14-year-old boy ward. Both maintain their innocence.

In May this year, a team from the National Council for the Protection of Child Rights inspected another children's shelter just outside New Delhi where they uncovered what their report described as a “reign of terror.”

The report detailed allegations of sexual molestation by staff members, regular beatings and psychological abuse.

The shelter was closed down and seven people subsequently arrested, including the owner and her son-in-law.

No oversight

India has a poor record of investigating and sentencing those implicated in child abuse cases.

The most high-profile verdict saw two British men sentenced to six years in jail in March 2011—10 years after charges were first filed—for abusing several young boys at a children's shelter they ran in Mumbai.

Anant Kumar Asthana, a lawyer who advises juvenile homes on legal compliance, says India is home to a huge number of institutions that operate with virtually no oversight.

“The total number of institutions with children is impossible to quantify, because so many evade classification. They just run things on their own,” he told AFP.

India's 2000 Juvenile Justice Act provides a roadmap for management to tackle abuse taking place inside institutions, but many privately-run homes resist registration.

According to Asthana, the problem is compounded by the absence of well-trained and educated staff.

“The counsellors, field workers who work with children, many of them haven't even finished high school. They are easily overwhelmed when kids misbehave,” he said.

“They think it's good to instill fear or the children won't listen to you,” he said.

“When a child misbehaves, other kids are encouraged to hit him as punishment.”

While many children in the homes are orphans, a sizeable number are also from families with an absent father and a mother who has to work and cannot provide adequate care.

Such was the case with the 11-year-old girl who died in the Arya Anathalaya home in December.

She was placed in the home four years ago by her then 24-year-old mother, Pooja who, with three other children, felt unable to cope after her husband walked out on the family.

“I was at work all the time and my girls had to go and come from school on their own. I just didn't think they would be safe,” Pooja told AFP.

Broken system

Krinna Shah, a social worker with 17 years of experience, and a former member of a child welfare committee in east Delhi said the system was broken.

“There is no effort to protect children at all. And when something goes wrong, the option is usually to displace the kid further. Instead the management should be removed,” she told AFP.

She cited a case when she recommended the closure of a shelter in Delhi where children were not given adequate clothing or bathed properly, but her suggestions were ignored by senior government officials.

“The state is happy giving licenses to NGOs (non-governmental organisations), because then they don't have to take care of the kids themselves,” she said.

Where abuse does occur, the children are often extremely fearful and reluctant to approach anyone with complaints, and critics say current legislation does not have stringent enough provisions to tackle the problem.

In the case of the Arya Anathalaya home, a court-appointed judicial committee comprising a district judge and two social workers visited the shelter.

Their report, filed in May, said the home was functioning well and no further action was required.

In 2009, a five-year-old girl said she was attacked at Arya Anathalaya and a medical examination established that she was sexually abused.

Nitinjay Chaudhry, the general secretary of the home, insisted that the allegations were fabricated.

"She was not abused. It didn't happen," he said, arguing that the "fantastical" charges were part of a conspiracy to destroy the institution and take over the sprawling property on which it stands.


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Comments (13) Closed

aaa Jul 11, 2012 04:05pm
Rather than getting hurt at the fact that this was found in india try to be more human and look at the problem. Whereever it was found it happens all over the world. If it is a child in a place without parents there are more chances. I think here of children workers in people's homes, children who labour in different mechaniscs shops, at carpenters. All the children at local small charpai hotels, are more at a risk. Same goes for orphans and any child with mental disability. How does one ever stop all this. I feel responsibility lies at the hands of the people who are in touch with these children to educate these children and warn them of such activities and whom to warn in case of any sort of problem. I remember once visiting an orphanage in Pakistan and there was almost no child who was not already traumatized. There were children with all sorts of extreme painful histories regarding their parents.
Ejaz Jul 11, 2012 10:22am
Don't take it as pointing a finger to India please. The news paper is merely stating the facts. I am a non Indian but firmly believe in humanity. As a human being, I felt the sadness of mother and grief strikes in my heart. I am a parent myself and can feel the agony of what parents will be going through. Last night channel 4 of the UK showed a programme called "Kashmir's torture trail". You will see the blatant attrocites and violation of human rights committed againstin the civilian Kashmiris by the Indian Forces. One needs to think above the patriotic sentiments and accept the ground realities. No pun or no offence is caused to anyone; just stating my feelings after reading such a sad and gloomy piece of news.
abc Jul 15, 2012 10:04pm
Yes tortures and abuse on children, should be condemned with absolute sternness. Al Jazeera World : "Balochistan: Pakistan's other war (can easily be found in Youtube)" showed a programme called "Balochistan's torture trail". You will see the blatant attrocites and violation of human rights committed againstin the civilian Balochis by the Pakistani Forces. One needs to think above the patriotic sentiments and accept the ground realities. No pun or no offence is caused to anyone; just stating my feelings after reading such a sad and gloomy piece of news.
Alr Jul 12, 2012 12:09pm
Well said!!
Bhartiali Jul 11, 2012 11:11am
What kind of a society are we? Children are subjected to the most humiliating and violent forms of abuse and yet we wait for a case to be made out. Denying and hiding matters does not help, neither the children nor the institution. Accepting, reporting abuse and taking necessary action alone can save an institution from being destroyed. And it is not about one Arya Anathalaya. The recent spurt in reporting on abuse of children in institutions and schools calls for serious action instead of debate. For that matter why should we debate on whether the little girl at Shantiniketan should or should not have been asked to drink of lick her own urine. Isn't it enough to understand that the child did not like it, and had no choice in the matter and felt a wrong was being committed on her? I therefore urge upon all responsible for ensuring a safe and protective environment for our children to stand up and campaign for 'ZERO TOLERANCE OF ANY FORM OF CHILD ABUSE'. We also need to start reporting child abuse and now the Protection of Children against Sexual Abuse Act makes reporting of sexual abuse mandatory. This is a huge responsibility cast on all and it is high time we did our duty!
RIKY Jul 11, 2012 10:58am
This is not happening only in India but all over the world, even the catholic priest in US did not spare children, Europe is full of pedophiles. HUMAN MIND IS SICK. It like violence, sex fantasies, jealousy, possessiveness,greed and power. BUT IS THERE ANY WAY OUT ???
janin Jul 11, 2012 05:03am
A shining example ....... of a society lives in in denial while children are being raped by the wild animals of the city. ......Where thousands of children go hungry while their keepers enjoy three hot meals a day..... ------------where 5 year girls are forced to become prostitute before they learn how to swing....... ...................................where world sees the shining light.....but no one tell them about the dark house that exists in every corner of my city.............................
Leftist Jul 11, 2012 06:30am
there is wide spread abuse here, then why are we pointing towards India??
KKRoberts Jul 11, 2012 06:42am
Everyone knew it before.No one wanted to speak it out.A clear picture....
P Setra Jul 11, 2012 07:13am
In India as well as in Pakistan, if government is indifferent about childrens' rights the NGO's must be strengthened. by donations etc. India has NCPCR for the same purpose. But it seems the agency can not cover much of the abuses going on, because of lack of resources.
Krinna Shah Jul 12, 2012 06:34am
When is it about children, let's not get into where is s/he from. Plight of children and our responsibility towards them remains the same, irrespective of the country.
Sadia Mahmud Jul 12, 2012 07:05am
I agree. Nationlism does have its limitation. After all eventually I believe its all about humanity. Children will of course be reluctant and scared to disclose abuse as they are not aware and understand this heinous violaton. Its for the society and adults to take the responsibility to protect and educate children to protect themselves. If you google "Rozan Pakistan" you will find an animation "Tinku and Tina" that is about educating children to protect themselves in a manner they can understand. Rozan is an NGo that works on child abuse. I will be happy to know of similar initiatives in India, perphaps NGOs in India & Pakistan can link up. Kind regards Sadia Mahmud
Sadia Mahmud Jul 23, 2012 05:06pm
Its not a matter of getting hurt because it happened in India, one should get hurt WHEREVER its happens. I agree with you that instead of just getting hurt, one should take an active role in educating children and people responsible for them about protecting children. I know it happens in Pakistan. Wherever it happens CHILD SEX ABUSE IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY. AS you pointed out that it is prevalent particularly among vulnerable children that means the we as human beings have a lot of struggle to do in protecting and educating children and people responsible for them, and pushing for strong laws and implementation.