September 30, 2020

How the system failed shelter kids

Patna: Experts agree with the chief minister’s diagnosis that the “system” failed in the shelter home sexual abuse case, but differ with his prescribed cure of government takeover of the homes.

“It is a system failure because of the lack of sensitivity and priority on the part of the government,” said Dr Suman Lal, founder of the Prayas Bharti Trust that runs rehabilitation centres for women.

She pointed out that instead of giving the job to NGOs with experience in working with children, contracts were given to organisations that come into existence only to earn money.

The social welfare department, sources said, used to give Rs 13.5 lakh per year to the Muzaffarpur Balika Grih run by Brajesh Thakur, which is at the heart of the shelter home sexual abuse horror.

The system of checks and balances also failed – at every level.

NGOs running shelter homes have to be registered under the Juvenile Justice Act. The place where the shelter home is to be opened has to be cleared as safe for children by a committee of officials sent by the district magistrate. How the district committee approved Brajesh’s short-stay home in a residential area of Muzaffarpur is being questioned.

“These committees give their report according to the influence and other considerations of the person running the organisation,” said Lal.

Even after an NGO starts a shelter home, a statutory district child protection committee is supposed to visit these homes every week and submit a report.

Officials from a district child protection office are supposed to inspect the shelters every month.

The social welfare department also has to send inspection teams. An integrated child protection committee headed by the zila parishad chairman is supposed to sit twice every three months to discuss welfare measures to be taken in these shelter homes.

These checks, however, remain on paper only. Often these reports are filled without going to the shelter homes and without talking to the children without the presence of the NGO staff as they are supposed to be done.

The chairman of the child protection commission visited the Muzaffarpur Bal Grih and submitted a report that the children were “sad”; there was no mention of sexual abuse.

Even social welfare minister Manju Verma, who had visited Brajesh Thakur’s shelter home, had not spoken to the children individually.

After the Muzaffarpur system collapse left the government on the back foot, Nitish stepped out on Monday to announce that the government would take over from NGOs the responsibility of running the shelter homes.

“One only has to facilities and rehabilitation centres run by the government to find the fact. Most of them are overcrowded and the inmates live in unhygienic conditions,” remarked an NGO owner.

Nitish’s “system failure” remark also became cannon fodder for the Opposition. RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav tweeted in Hindi that the chief minister frames the small fry and shields the big fish. He added: ” Chacha, who will look after the system? Why are you sitting on the chair?”

Courtesy: The Telegraph

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