Recent case of death of a girl at a Delhi orphanage questions the institutional support available to victims of abuse

Demanding better child protection mechanisms and zero tolerance for any form of child abuse, representatives of several non-government organisations and networks, families and children organised a protest at Jantar Mantar here on Monday. Most of them work with organisations that provide help to children who have been victims of abuse.

With the recent case of Arya Anathalya in Darya Ganj which came under scrutiny after abuse of children and the death of a girl under mysterious circumstances, representatives rued the complete lack of basic child protection mechanism in such institutions: “What happens to children after being rescued from such organisations or institutions? There is no coordination between the concerned departments…if the police is sensitised in some place, the child welfare committee (CWC) is inactive,” said Rishi Kant from Shakti Vahini.

Former CWC chairperson Bharti Sharma said: “We say the police is failing, the government is not taking action, but if they are not doing anything, who will? Before the Arya Anathalay case [came to light]…nobody was paying attention to these things. We want the public to be involved.”

Elaborating further on the monitoring of such institutions, Ms. Sharma said: “The rights of children in such institutions are protected under the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) Section 34 (3). Any organisation or institution helping children in need of care must register themselves under JJA….and the CWC is supposed to hold regular inspection. The management of Arya Anathalaya refused to do so.” She further said the weakness of the JJA was that if an institution does not register itself under the Act, there are “no penal provisions”.

The protestors demanded a CBI inquiry into the Arya Anathalaya case and “decisive action” against the perpetrators of crimes against children who are still present in the institution.

A teacher at Rani Datta Arya Vidyalaya, the school run by the orphanage management, Poonam Datta, spoke about the violence and misbehaviour at the institution: “The daughter of the orphanage owner, Sangeeta Chaudhary, regularly screamed and slapped the staff on trivial matters…Small children were made to clean and mop the institution.” Ms. Datta said she was also manhandled by Ms. Chaudhary.

Pooja, mother of the 11-year-old girl whose death brought the case to light, also joined the protest and said she does not want any more children to fall prey to the same fate as her daughter's. “I want everyone responsible for the death of my daughter to be brought to book,” she said, adding that those responsible for the death of her daughter were still in the orphanage and must be punished.

Atiya Bose from Aangan said the Arya Anathalaya case is not an isolated one, and in fact exposes the lack of understanding about the response mechanism when a child makes such widespread allegations against an institution. “If there is no safe, anonymous and systematic means for the children to complain, the message that goes out to them is that the exercise is pointless.”

Anathalaya response

Late on Monday evening, the Arya Anathalaya issued a statement saying that the protest was “uncalled for and a malicious design to destabilise the good work being done by these institutions”.

The statement said the NGOs' claim that Arya Anathalaya was refusing to register under the JJA was incorrect. “After the Amendment Act of 2006 came into force…Arya Orphanage and its sister institutions applied for registration within the specified time under Section 34(3) of the Act read with Rule 71 of the Juvenile Rules, 2007,” it said. After the applications were not attended to, the institution filed a writ petition whose hearing is pending before the High Court, it added.

The management said it was “unfair and counter-productive that for one or two stray incidents whose truth is yet to be established by judicial scrutiny” the institution's name was being maligned.

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