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The Curious Case Of Missing “Children” And “Care” In Child Care Institutes

RTI Query

SC ordered audit of 9000 CCIs.||Credits: HT

When the government ordered the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to undertake an audit of all the 9000+ Child Care Homes in the country in a span of 2 months in the wake of a few abuse cases in Bihar and UP reported by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, it was seen as a welcome and feasible solution to control the situation that was rampant in most Child Care Institutes (CCI) of the country. The Supreme court ruling that says “over 2 lakh children are missing from CCIs” only furthers the fear that CCIs are not safe havens for the children. 

The latest Supreme Court order on its Suo Motu case in the same regard to mete out justice to victims of child abuse seems like a ray of hope in these dark times. The order directs the centre “to set up courts in every district for child abuse cases within the 60-day deadline”. The order clearly implies that it is high time the government set to action and take the necessary steps as it is the responsibility of the state to safeguard and protect children in Child Care Institutions. 

Bhaarath Varma, Director of Tvameva Social Impact And Development Foundation, an NGO working with various public and private CCIs, says, “We aim to bring possible reforms in accountability of management and the grievance redressal mechanisms. It’s not that the grievance redressal, data management, and other procedures are not present in the administration of CCI’s but the accountability of the management of these CCIs is not well established.” 

NCPCR, established in 2007, was given the responsibility for the audit of CCIs after the uprisings in multiple states on the identification of child abuse cases and the supreme court intervention into the matter. A deeper look into where the inadequacy lies points at multiple failure points. The NCPCR was crippled with the following issues: 

  1.  The number of CCIs to be surveyed in relation to the time span and human resource is highly disproportionate.
  2.  NCPCR lacks the required expertise and tools to carry out a social audit.
  3. Their social audit did not include interviews of children. 
Children are poorly treated in CCIs across India.||Credits: Business Standard

Another notable factor that gives CCIs leeway to escape the eyes of authorities is the disparity in the number of child protection officer(s) per district to the number of Child Care Institutes, as social activist Sunitha Krishnan rightly pointed out in one of her interviews. It’s highly impossible for CPOs to address the grievances of children in CCIs, considering their strength. Generally, the social audit of these CCIs should establish the accountability of the management of CCIs along with these procedural compliances. She also stressed that for the success of such an audit, there is a necessity to approach the topic through a multi-disciplinary approach, unlike the current system of looking at it through a single dimension.  

Aruna Jyothi, a social worker with experience in Child Welfare issues, said, “It was not new about the reporting on CCIs of trafficking and harassment.” Using her experience in urban slums, while answering a question, she proposed a two-step approach: including a preliminary review and a customized survey of CCIs to ensure the safety and dignity of the children. A standard review and audit at Pan-India level of all CCIs by a member of an institute like ICAI and then specific review by other disciplinary professionals might be needed to address the existing service delivery issues.  

The disappearance and reappearance of children and suspicious behaviour of caretakers of a Child Care Home in Hyderabad made an associated Australian (NRI) social worker raise concerns about the activities of the CCI. Further investigation made him face the dark side of such ‘homes’, resulting in him reporting about the occurrence of sexual harassment. This also exposed the kind of activities prevalent in CCIs not only in the state of Telangana but all over the country.

Few organizations too have their share of glitches in the form of not registering themselves as CCIs, which aid them to escape the government’s notice and indulge in illegal and inhumane activities. Instances of children being used for begging and labour through CCIs are also well reported.

Bhaarath Varma and his colleagues from Tvameva Social Impact And Development Foundation filed an RTI inquiry seeking information regarding the state of orphanages and details about adoption. The response speaks volumes about the flailing quality of Child Care Institutes and the dropping adoption figures. 

Due to their experience of working with Child Care Institutions, they decided to see what could be done to improve the quality of CCIs. Thus, I started the round of above-mentioned interviews and research, the result of which is a proposal suggesting social audit in the following manner:

  • An annual/regular pan-India level social audit of CCIs by an independent, unbiased, skilled third party like ICAI (Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) which shall keep a check on the system and administration of the CCIs.
  • The second step would be to bring along psychologists, sociologists and social workers to contribute to the audit, hence keeping a necessary check on CCIs through a multi-disciplinary approach.

Further advocacy with the government to initiate necessary policy-level intervention shall quicken the pace of necessary action. It’s high time the government tackles the issue with policy-level intervention to bring requisite changes to establish accountability on the management of public and private child care institutions. 

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