The care homes in Andhra Pradesh violating child rights 

Andhra Pradesh’s childcare institutions, meant to be sanctuaries for vulnerable minors, are grappling with an unsettling reality. The Hindu finds that recent incidents expose the compromised safety of children post-rescue, underscored by abuse, negligence, and the leaking of sensitive data 

Updated - February 08, 2024 03:56 pm IST

Published - November 17, 2023 08:22 am IST - VISAKHAPATNAM

A homeless boy sleeping on a bench by the roadside near R.K. Beach in Visakhapatnam. Nearly 14,000 rescued children reside in 715 childcare homes in Andhra Pradesh, governed by 13 Child Welfare Committees

A homeless boy sleeping on a bench by the roadside near R.K. Beach in Visakhapatnam. Nearly 14,000 rescued children reside in 715 childcare homes in Andhra Pradesh, governed by 13 Child Welfare Committees | Photo Credit: V. Raju

Two years ago, Rani (name changed to protect identity), now 15, lost her mother to an illness. Left in the care of her father, a private company employee, Rani and her younger brother found themselves neglected and unsupported. In September this year, family members sought to marry off the class 9 student. However, timely intervention by an NGO and the police in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh thwarted the child marriage bid. Following the rescue, Rani was shifted to a care home in Vijayawada, through the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in the district. Once again, she finds herself in a distressing situation. “The care home staff collected personal information about me and later leaked it,” she says. This breach of trust ironically came to light on the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11. 

Rani is among the 200-odd minor girls rescued from different parts of the State and produced before the Krishna CWC whose confidential information was allegedly leaked by a counsellor-cum-social worker last month. The profiles of the minor girls were allegedly given to a CWC member who had the information on a pen drive and compiled a 229-page book with photographs, names, ages, nativity, phone numbers, family details, case history on how they were rescued and sent to the shelter home, as well as their follow-up history. The same CWC member also has a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by a colleague.

Typically, data of children referred to Child Care Institutions (CCIs) should be stored either with the CWC or the CCI in the form of physical files and in the official computer database. Under Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, disclosure of names and details of “Children in Need of Care and Protection” is prohibited. No criminal case has been registered so far. 

Also read | Officials inquire into safety of minor girls whose data leaked from A.P. shelter home

“Profiles of the rescued minor boys and girls in thousands of cases are missing from CWCs across the State. There is no proper documentation system or custodian to protect the data of the minors in the CWCs,” alleges a staff member of the girl’s home, where the leak took place. 

This incident has raised several questions, including why the data was leaked, whether the accused CWC member collected profiles of girls from other CCIs, the role of the management in leaking the profiles, and how many are involved. The Juvenile Welfare Department has ordered an inquiry into the incident.  

Despite being rescued from physically- and emotionally-scarring circumstances, vulnerable children placed in childcare homes often find themselves in continued jeopardy

Despite being rescued from physically- and emotionally-scarring circumstances, vulnerable children placed in childcare homes often find themselves in continued jeopardy | Photo Credit: K.V.S. Giri

It has also brought into focus the safety and health of nearly 14,000 children residing in 715 childcare homes in Andhra Pradesh, governed by 13 CWC. All licences issued by the Juvenile Welfare Correctional Services and Welfare of Street Children expired a year ago. After the incident, the State government has hurriedly started the process of issuing temporary licenses through collectors, who will be responsible for the inspection of homes. 

When tried to contact over the status of the sexual harassment and data leak cases, Collector Mr. Dilli Rao, was not available over phone.

System stink 

Ramu (name changed), a class 9 student, was detained in a childcare institution for about two months after being labelled in a file as ‘boy missing’. “The facilities in the home were horrible. Many minors and I were subjected to various forms of harassment,” he says. Ramu has urged the CWC and the State Child Rights Commission to immediately reunite him with his family. 

These disturbing personal accounts raise a critical question about the safety of minors in CCIs, commonly known as childcare homes, in Andhra Pradesh. Despite being rescued from physically- and emotionally-scarring circumstances such as trafficking, drug addiction, sexual assault, child marriage or after being orphaned, vulnerable children placed in childcare homes often find themselves in continued jeopardy.  

Also read | Over 700 child care homes operating in Andhra Pradesh await renewal of registration

As per the norms, Collectors are instructed to review the functioning of the CWCs in their respective districts, enquire about the children referred to CCIs, provide counselling, and facilitate reunion with their family members. However, in some districts, the performance of CWCs is not reviewed on a regular basis. Inspection at childcare homes have not been carried out for the past year, as reported by officials from the Juvenile Justice Board and CWC. These homes are still running. 

“Many CWCs are operating from private buildings, and the profiles of the children were not preserved properly. The information of the rescued minors was kept in open places, leading to misuse,” said a CWC member, requesting anonymity. 

A girl selling wrist bands and keychains by the roadside in Visakhapatnam.

A girl selling wrist bands and keychains by the roadside in Visakhapatnam. | Photo Credit: V. Raju

Director of Juvenile Welfare, Correctional Services and Welfare of Street Children, B.D.V. Prasad Murthy says instructions will be issued to all CWCs in the State to take measures for protecting the data of the children referred to various homes. 

“The CWC chairperson and members shall visit the childcare homes, enquire about the facilities and welfare of the children. An SOP will be sent to all CWCs on saving the profiles online apart from preserving the hard copies. Data entry operators working in CWCs will be held responsible for misuse of data of minors,” he warns. 

Illegally operated 

In June last year, the Disha Mahila Police of NTR Commissionerate registered a case against the management of the School for Hearing, Mentally Retarded, and Special Children, operated by an NGO, Annamma Home for Hearing and Physically Handicapped and Baby Care Centre, located near Ibrahimpatnam in NTR district. The allegations involved purported sexual abuse of inmates within the home. 

Based on a complaint, the Collector ordered a joint inquiry by the Revenue, Disabled Welfare, Women and Child Welfare, and police departments, which conducted raids at the shelter home and rescued 22 residents. 

During the investigation, it came to light that the management was operating a babycare centre, a school, a working women’s hostel, a shelter home for special children, and a residential house, along with a school for mentally-challenged children, all under one roof, without obtaining the necessary permission from relevant departments. 

A few inmates gave statements detailing instances of sexual assault by the home organisers, unauthorised entry of outsiders during odd hours, and overall mistreatment. Subsequently, the police registered cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, and other relevant sections, leading to the arrest of four. 

A police officer investigating the case says the then District Probation Officer (DPO) of the Juvenile Welfare Department, who is the designated officer for childcare homes, had failed to visit the home for several months. “He was supposed to visit and submit quarterly reports, but that was not done. The DPO also did not report sexual exploitation of the special needs children, which had allegedly been going for over a year,” the officer adds.

An NGO representative, who took part in the raid, strongly condemns the inhuman treatment of the deaf and dumb girls by the home organisers: “Juvenile Welfare officials have not taken any action against the DPO concerned and his staff, who allegedly suppressed illegal activities in the home. The Panchayat, Sachivalayam, and Anganwadi staff chose to keep mum.” 

Missing children 

Two girls who were witness to the alleged sexual abuse of special needs children went missing, prompting a search by the police. In another instance, three minors recently escaped from a girl’s home in Kruthivennu mandal of Krishna district. While in these two cases, the girls were successfully tracked down, not every missing child is traced. 

An 11-year-old boy who disappeared two months ago from Chiguru Children’s Home in Penumaka village on the banks of the Krishna river, has not been located. The home management filed a complaint with Tadepalli police in this regard. “Bharat was studying in a local school. Teams have been sent to Eluru, Vijayawada, Guntur, and Secunderabad in Telangana apart from other places to search for the missing boy,” says Guntur CWC chairperson G.Arogya Prameela. 

“Children going missing, the allegations of abuse in CCIs and the leak of data from a shelter home for girls has all been shocking. We have directed the NTR District Collector to initiate an inquiry and recommend action against the negligent staff in Krishna CWC,” says State Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Kesali Appa Rao. 

He also emphasised the urgency for the Juvenile Welfare Department authorities to renew licences, conduct frequent visits to the homes, and ensure the protection of minors from various States, including Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. 

“The department officials should conduct orientation classes for CWC, elucidating their duties, responsibilities, and adherence to relevant legislation such as the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015; POCSO Act, 2012; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006; Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; and JJ Rules and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. Resource persons and experts should also train the CWC chairpersons and members on protecting the data of inmates in CCIs,” he adds. 

There is also an urgent need for better coordination among various departments and units, including CWCs, Women Development and Child Welfare, Factories, Labour, SCPCR, Revenue, Police departments, Juvenile Justice Boards, District Child Protection Units, Special Juvenile Police Units and Sishu Gruhas, to ensure justice for the children, Rao points out. 

Far from a safe haven 

A seven-year-old girl of the Yanadi tribe who was rescued along with her two sisters by the Railway Protection Force from Madhura Nagar Railway Station in Vijayawada, died at Chiguru Children Home, run by Nava Jeevan Bala Bhavan. “She complained of stomach pain, and was admitted in Government General Hospital (GGH), Vijayawada. She died while undergoing treatment,” the home staff said. An FIR was registered.  

The All India Students’ Federation-A.P. treasurer Mandagalla Sai Kumar had demanded a judicial inquiry into the various incidents. “Collectors concerned should conduct a review of CWCs, visit the shelter homes, interact with the inmates, enquire about the facilities and take action against the management in case of any negligence or wrongdoing,” Sai Kumar says. 

“Leak of information of the children staying in child care homes was a gross violation of JJ Act. The Juvenile Welfare department officials should inspect the CCI, verify the facilities. The home managements should strictly follow the guidelines issued by the government while issuing licenses,” said former Krishna district CWC Chairperson, B.V.S. Kumar.

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