Helpline crying for help

BANGALORE Dec. 25. Makkala Sahaya Vani (MSV), a 12-hour helpline for children, faces seemingly simple, but in reality intractable obstacles, to do its work.

A transit shelter it needs, which the Police Department has in Gandhinagar, remains out of its grasp, and its voluntary social workers no longer get their honorariums. The building in Gandhinagar is no more than a godown now; and Tata IBM, which paid the honorariums for two years more than it had promised, stopped the payment in March this year.

MSV runs as an "affiliate" of the Police Department. It runs on the premises of the office of the Commissioner of Police, gets police stationery, and the use of a van and three women constables for its work.

Two-and-a-half years ago, we reported that MSV needed that shelter to deal with the influx of children into the City. The need is more urgent today. MSV deals with a fifth of the 60 to 80 runaway children who come to the City everyday, on trains and buses mostly.

The children may have run away to simply escape examination pressures or may have been brought by a relative to be put to "work". Some may be orphans and many are traumatised by sexual abuse. The shelter is required to keep these children from getting onto the streets.

There are two requirements from a shelter. One, a transit shelter for children who can be sent back to their parents immediately or within two weeks time, after some counselling. Two, a more permanent shelter which can house poor orphans, give them food, medical aid, and counselling.

In January 1999, MSV did start using the shelter in Gandhinagar, but the Police Department decided to take it back in February 2000, for reasons that are not clear. The Deputy Commissioner of Police (West), under whose jurisdiction the building comes, now says MSV will be allowed to use the premises again "soon". The question is, how soon?

The problem is exacerbated because the NGOs that MSV networks with, cannot cope with the steady influx. Besides, they have a preference for children of a certain age group. MSV has an understanding with 35 NGOs to which children are referred. Of these, nine have been recognised by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare as "Fit Persons Institutes" or organisations recognised as adoption centres. These organisations are expected to take any child referred to them.

What really happens is that they refuse to take children beyond the age of seven or eight. Prospective foster parents don't like older children.

There are other organisations which take children above the age of 11 or 12, and give them vocational training. That means nobody wants children between 7 and 11 or 12. As to juvenile delinquents, "nobody wants to take such children... there is an attitude that they are losers in any case and can't be helped," said an insider.

Restoring MSV its shelter may give such children another chance, which they deserve. In the long run, given half a decent alternative, fewer of them may opt for crime.