‘Precarious family milieu forces children to homes’

Most children at childcare institutions are not orphans, but belong to family structures that are unable to look after them such as those that are headed by unwed mothers, abandoned wives, widows and in some cases single fathers, shows a pan-India study conducted under this aegis of the Women and Child Development Ministry.

The study records a total of 9,589 shelters across the country. These include shelters for children who are in need of care and protection such as those who don’t have a home or parents as well as children in conflict with law or those who have been accused of or found to have committed a crime. The survey found more than 3.7 lakh children housed at these centres.

Presented to SC

The report, Mapping of Child Care Institutions under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, was conducted by Childline India Foundation and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), has now been made public by the Ministry.

According to the report, children of single parents constituted a third of the total number of total children in homes, accounting for 1,20,118 children. This number is more than double that of children orphaned, abandoned and those surrendered by their parents at 41,730, 7,677 and 6,791 respectively.

“Single parents could be a wide gamut of caregivers including unwed mothers, abandoned wives and widows and even single fathers. We have seen that daily wage labourers, domestic workers place their children in homes for their safety and education,” said Harleen Walia of Childline India.

Procedures ignored

“Economic vulnerability or a dysfunctional family situations are some of the primary reasons for children being sent to shelters, followed by the fact that there is no extended family or protective structure at community level to support such vulnerable families,” she added. A total of 1,575 survivors of sexual abuse were found at these centres. However, the study doesn’t examine whether sexual abuse at these homes was prevalent.

Children rescued from trafficking accounted for just 3,173 inmates. There were 19,834 children suffering from mental and physical disabilities and as many as 4,999 were infected by HIV or suffering from AIDS, the report says.

“There is a need to focus on measures like sponsorship schemes laid down under the JJ Act so that families can be helped with expenses towards education of children and they can remain within their families and don’t have to be abandoned. The whole idea of protection of children has to be about strengthening families so that they are able to look after their children if they can’t do so for reasons beyond their control,” said Bharti Ali, Co-founder, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights.

The Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children), 2015, lays down that sending children to an institution should be the last resort and that they have the right to be re-united with their families at the earliest.

Poor follow-up

However, certain findings of the survey raise questions about the efficacy of shelters in trying to restore children to their families.

The Act requires that a child brought to a home be produced before a Child Welfare Committee (CWC) within 24 hours. The CWC then declares the child abandoned, surrendered or orphaned. According to the report many child care institutions (CCIs) recorded a poor rate of producing a child before the CWC, ranging from no such cases in Manipur through 17% in Kerala, 32 % in Uttar Pradesh to 48% in Sikkim and 50% in Uttarakhand.

Only 19.3% of CCIs made an effort to trace the biological parents of a rescued child. Similarly, a mere 18.32% of the homes made an effort to file an FIR in case of missing children reported to it.

Only 37.21% centres maintained records of a child being reunited with his or her family, such as a letter from a parent or a guardian with an identity proof.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2021 6:39:09 AM |

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