Mumbai’s children’s homes still a mess

story of neglect:The Bal Kalyan Nagari children’s home in Mankhurd— Photo: Prashant Waytande

story of neglect:The Bal Kalyan Nagari children’s home in Mankhurd— Photo: Prashant Waytande  

Inadequate staff, poor infrastructure, insufficient budgeting: HC-appointed committee highlights various shortfalls; children speak of difficulties

“I have seen children get intoxicated, I have been beaten, I have cried every day that I spent here,” said Arun (all names of children changed) who spent 15 days in the Dongri remand home home for juveniles in 2014. “I can tell you many terrible things.”

Sunil, who has just emerged from the Dongri home after six months, awaiting an inquiry, talks of the food: not enough salt or watery dal: these were some of the complaints. “But in the past few months it has become better,” he admitted. Though the food has its better moments, there is no geyser, barely any recreation and beatings for those who get into fights. All the children must sleep on a mat on the floor, with a sheet for cover, but no pillow. “I miss home,” Sunil says.

In the Dongri facility, there is just one appointed sweeper and two cooks for about 300 children. The 200-plus boys have four toilets between them. About 150-plus boys sleep, eat, play and study in a single room.

Three children escaped from the children’s home in Bhiwandi on Monday night, because of lax security and inadequate staff. Three caretaker positions have been vacant for more than a year, stretching existing staff and leading to incidents such as this, the second in the past three months.

At the David Sassoon home in Matunga, 10 children escaped in August. There too, security and infrastructure are lacking, say those acquainted with the home.

Children’s homes house both children in need of care and protection — including runaways and orphans — and young offenders. There are 1,105 such homes across the state; the seven in Mumbai are run by the Children’s Aid Society. About 5,000 children go through these homes annually.

For years, these homes have been slammed as unhygienic and inadequate. In May, the Bombay High Court had castigated the state government, observing the Mankhurd home needed structural repairs and the resumption of technical courses for children, among other things.

A HC-appointed committee set up to look into the Mankhurd and Dongri homes recommended an increase in the food budget, timely staff salary payments and an “urgent need to expand the infrastructure.” The report, which The Hindu accessed, said, “The staff working there has no growth avenues, which has seriously impacted the morale of employees […] which has affected the quality of work in the institution. The impact of [this] can be seen in the seasonal poor upkeep of the institution.”

The key issue was the absence of accountability: it wasn’t clear if the homes were under the government or a non-profit or a partnership arrangement. “This committee is of the opinion that majority of the issues within Children’s Aid Society is because of lack of this clarity,” the report said. The report said that the inspection found the Dongri home clean, but that sustaining it could be an issue because of three core reasons: infrastructure, staff and accountability.

The report was submitted as part of a public interest litigation (PIL) in June.

The Hindu spoke to nearly a dozen people to find that a lot still remains to be done.

With little or no educational opportunities or other activities, the children become restless and bored, sometimes even violent. Even though the number of children in Dongri has increased, the infrastructure has not kept pace. S. Bansode, deputy chief officer of Children’s Aid Society, said a new building was coming up in Dongri and that things were on the mend overall. He said about 80 per cent staff strength had been filled, leaving 30 vacancies. “There has been an improvement and we have developed a nutrition programme and improved cleanliness,” he said.

A social worker acquainted with the Dongri home whipped out pictures of children cleaning up the rubbish, walking around barefoot as they did so. “How can they be made to do this?” she asked.

Another social worker pointed to the fact that while groups donated items to homes, one-off donations alone weren’t enough. “Maintenance is an issue,” said the person. “The food has improved but physically things aren’t much better.”

In 2013 the state government increased the monthly per child expenditure from Rs. 635 to Rs. 900; that’s roughly Rs. 30 per child per day. “But is that enough?” asked a Juvenile Justice Board member. “Day by day the state of the homes is getting worse.”

The writer is a freelance journalist

The staff working there has no growth avenues, which has seriously impacted morale... affected quality of work


Committee report

We have developed a nutrition programme and improved cleanliness [at the Dongri home]

S. BansodeDy. Chief Officer, Children’s Aid Society

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