Around nine child care homes are waiting to be registered, and officials have no count of homes operating without registration.

While the Pollachi rape case underscored the dangers of unregistered child homes, the issue of safety of children seldom gets the attention it deserves in this city.

Though the Integrated Child Protection Scheme, run in partnership between the Centre and the States, has been operating for years, children continue to run the risk of abuse on streets, and at child care centres and their own homes.

And, the implementation of the laws against child marriage and child labour remains uninspiring.

There are 43 homes (child care centres) in Puducherry. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, makes it mandatory for them to be registered.

“Licences are renewed every two years. The Union Territory of Puducherry Child Protection Society, Social Welfare Department staff and the Child Welfare Committee conduct regular inspections of the institutions. If there is any violation, the home is closed,” says R. Shanthi, deputy director, Department of Social Welfare. “Citizens must report to the department if they feel a home is being run illegally.”

Around nine child care homes are waiting to be registered, and officials have no count of homes operating without registration.

Foreign funds

“We have observed that many organisations want to set up homes just for getting foreign funding,” says Ms. Shanthi.

“At the Centre, we are asked why there are so many homes for a place with such a small population. We can accommodate children in the existing homes. The Juvenile Justice Act is against the institutionalisation of children and sees it as a last resort.”

This view is also reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states that a child’s interests are best met within a family environment.

It is not just child homes that are at risk. The Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) gives grants to organisations under the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme for the Children of Working Mothers.

“During a study done in March 2013 in Puducherry, we found many of these crèches did not have trained personnel or function properly,” says P. Joseph Victor Raj of Hope, an NGO.

In the prevailing carrot-and-stick mode, many community-based organisations (CBOs) are liberally given grants and later pulled up during a ‘crackdown’. In the past, 140 CBOs were blacklisted.

“It should be investigated who recommended them in the first place. The government seems to function on an issue-to-issue basis. It should not be waiting for a problem to occur before acting on it,” said Mr. Raj.

Adoption

While there are two adoption agencies in Puducherry and one at Karaikal, parents wishing to adopt are often not aware of this.

“Some adoption rackets have been unearthed in the past. There have been cases in which people approach hospitals and child care homes for adoption. They must realise this is illegal,” says Ms. Shanthi.

Child labour

Recently, the Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL), a national civil society forum, met Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Minister for Labour and Employment, demanding the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Bill, 2012, be strengthened to prohibit child labour up to the age of 18 and ensure proper rescue and rehabilitation of child workers in a time-bound manner.

A holistic approach to the safety of children is the urgent need. Vidyaa Ramkumar, chairperson, Child Welfare Committee, Puducherry, says: “There has to be continuous sensitisation on sex education and child rights, for children, parents, teachers and the police. A child has to be sensitised to ‘good and bad touch’ early. There has to be follow-ups with victims of child marriage and child abuse. Unlicensed child homes should be closed, while others must be scrutinised. A government shelter home for girls is needed here. There is also a dearth of psychologists, whom we can engage to counsel children. We need professionally-run rehabilitation centres for children in distress. The ICPS itself requires more staffing.”

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