Who are the 2,500 children living in the 78 childcare institutions in Goa? A division bench of the High Court of Bombay comprising Justices N M Jamdar and Prithviraj Chavan has directed the chief secretary to investigate how so many children were allowed to be housed in the childcare institutions without any government certification that they needed care. The picture that emerges is of an ‘extremely serious state of affairs’ in the childcare institutions, the judges said. None of the children have been identified as a ‘child in need of care and protection’ as required under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act. The state child welfare committee has to certify such a child, but there is no committee certification in the case of any child. The court has asked the Chief Secretary to investigate if the childcare institutions were engaged in any illegal and unauthorised activities.
The people running the childcare institutions must be taken to task for keeping 2500-odd children without any orders for caretaking by the child welfare committee. They have been running their institutions obviously without any regard for the laws. Registered childcare institutions are required to submit annual reports to the government. The chief secretary must first find out whether these childcare institutions were filing their reports. He has to examine what justification they have been giving for taking children as inmates. The chief secretary has to also investigate whether the concerned government agencies ever conducted inspections of the institutions and filed any report. An audit of every childcare institution needs to be carried out periodically to check on the inmates, records, conditions and other aspects. A thorough inquiry must be done into the functioning of the directorate of women and child development which has failed to monitor the functioning of the childcare institutions. “An inquiry is also necessary in respect of role of each of the authorities who are connected with the identification, housing and integrations of the children in need of care and protection. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act integrates police machinery also in the working of the Act which is indicated in Section 107. The inquiry, therefore, will have to be with the aid of police machinery,” the court said.
Not long ago, the media reported abuse of child inmates housed in a flat in Vasco by an NGO. The children were subjected to brutalities. Obviously, the directorate of women and child development and other government agencies had not done their duty. Had they carried out checks they could have noted the NGO’s wrongdoings and penal and corrective steps could have been taken to protect the children. It was only owing to a whistleblower that the abuse came to notice and the cruelties to the children ended. One or more inmates of the government-owned Apna Ghar often flee. There have been allegations that they were abused by hardened criminals. The Goa Child Rights Commission has found several weaknesses in the management of Apna Ghar: no proper hygiene, no counsellers, no trained teachers. As the cruelties to children by Vasco NGO showed, conditions in NGO shelter homes could be worse.
The women and child development department has not been sensitive, sincere and proactive towards caretaking of children who do not have parents or close relations to take care of them. The very fact that as many as 2,500 children have been living in nearly 80 ‘childcare homes’ without its certification and knowledge goes to show how insensitive and insincere the bosses of the department and their subordinate officials are. Nobody knows whether the institutions were providing children proper food, clothing, medical attention and education. Nobody knows whether those running the institutions were protecting the inmates from abuse or forcing them into it. The chief secretary is going to find out about any exploitation and abuse from the police. However, the trouble with police is that they are triggered by a complaint. The director general of police is sure to tell the chief secretary that unless there is a complaint by the victim, they cannot investigate any childcare home. In other words, if none of the 2,500 children ever complained of abuse, the 78 childcare institutions would be certified as carrying out no ‘illegal’ or ‘unauthorized’ activities. It has been proven in the case of Bihar childcare homes that came into news recently for sexual abuse that unless the government agencies go to the children and take them into confidence they do not reveal what is happening to them. Teams of Goa’s women and child development department and police must visit the childcare homes and meet the inmates to know the reality.