No system in place to check background of staff; fund flow attracts those with profit motive

Monitoring of private-run orphanages in the State is back in focus after allegations surfaced last week of a young woman from an orphanage in Kozhikode being forcibly married off to a UAE national and later divorced.

With the mushrooming of illegal orphanages, the safety of children residing in them has been a cause of concern. In 2013 alone, eight cases of sexual abuse were reported from private orphanages in the State as per the Board of Control of Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes. The unreported ones could far outnumber this, say officials. A May 2011 circular from the State Police Chief says that “a number of unregistered orphanages in the State are potential breeding grounds for human trafficking.”

Kerala has 2,200 recognised orphanages which are run mostly by NGOs and charitable organisations. The system of recognition was changed in the last decade with these institutions now being given the certificate only for four years at a time. Once this period expires, fresh inspections are conducted to check if they meet the standards. “Before 2009, the conditions for recognition were less stringent. There was no system to renew the recognition periodically. They did not have to maintain the conditions once the initial check was over,” says P.C. Ibrahim, Chairman of the Board of Control of Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes.

In 2011-12, the board closed down 69 orphanages across the State for not meeting standards and for various violations. But these standards lay little thrust on the qualifications of the staff members who interact with the children. In many cases, they have been found to be responsible for abuse. In September last year, the secretary of an orphanage in Kannur was arrested after he was found to have abused seven girls below the age of 15.

“Currently, there is no arrangement to check the background of people who take care of the children. The board members of the specific institution select the caretakers. We train them,” says Mr. Ibrahim.

K.E. Gangadharan, member of the State Human Rights Commission says the management’s credentials and the caretakers’ qualifications must be checked thoroughly before such institutions are allowed to function.

He says that the flow of funds, from abroad even, attracts those with an eye on profits into setting up such institutions. A careful study of the management’s nature and their past work needs to be conducted before an institution is allowed to function.

The government also gives Rs.1,700 grant per child every month. In addition, each child gets 7 kg of rice and 3 kg of wheat.

Sherrief Ullath, chairman of the Child Welfare Committee, Malappuram, says that orphanages in the State are yet to adopt a ‘child rights-based approach,’ as is the norm globally. “Ideally, the caretakers should have degrees in social work and training in child psychology or similar courses. But this is hardly the case in most of our orphanages where their qualification is not given much importance. ,” says Mr. Ullath.