If Shelters Homes aren’t safe for kids, what about foster care?

If Shelters Homes aren’t safe for kids, what about foster care?

Patna:  Institutions for girls set up under the Juvenile Justice Act are now coming repeatedly under the ‘scanner’.

A two-member team of the Bihar state commission for protection of child rights (BSCPCR) visited a Hajipur-based short stay home for girls yesterday (July 21) to look into allegations that he inmates (all minors) were ‘sexually exploited’, as reported in newspapers.

Team members Prema Sah and Vijay Kumar Raushan spoke to Karuna Kumari, who runs the home, and the inmates. The shelter home, run by Nidan, a non-government organisation, is funded by the State Women Development Corporation.

The district programme officer Manmohan Prasad Singh (who is not an employee of Nidan) has been accused of sexually abusing the girls on the pretext of making on-the-spot inspection of their rooms.

Karuna told the team that Manmohan Prasad Singh didn’t allow other employees to accompany him when he went to inspect the rooms. Investigating team member Prema expressed surprise that Karuna never reported this fact about Singh to State Women’d Development Corporation officials.

The team at work in Hajipur

The members of the visiting team also spoke to eight residents separately. They spent almost two hours at the shelter home and then met Vaishali’s acting district magistrate (DM) Sarva Narain Yadav, who promised to initiate appropriate action.

Yadav immediately set up a five-member team comprising the Hajipur sub-divisional officer and the assistant superintendent of police and directed them to submit a report within 24 hours.

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The acting DM  said the girls would be sent for medical examination, if required. “There will be no compromise on the issue. It is very serious in nature and the guilty will not be spared at any cost,” he told reporters.

The girls, 7-15 years old,  refused to go to the Samastipur shelter home on the directive of the state administration. The district police team, which was assigned to comply with the state administration order returned empty-handed.

In another case, the Muzaffarpur district court hase granted permission to the Muzaffarpur district administration to exhume the body of the minor girl who was allegedly subjected to sexual abuse and subsequently killed at the Muzaffarpur based Balika Grih run by an NGO – Seva Sankal Evam Vikas Samiti.

Also on Saturday, another NGO was putting forth the idea that children are safer in foster and community care than in government shelter homes,  at a conference on the perspective of non-institutional child care.

Non-government organisation Bhoomika Vihar organised the conference in Patna. The participants felt that children would have a safer environment in non-institutional care than in  shelter and short stay homes.

“The recent rape cases being reported from government-run shelter homes are eye openers on how institutional care cannot be a solution for children in need. Non-institutional care that comprises foster or family care provides a safer environment for children. We have many examples of children not living with their biological parents but with relatives or  family members, being safe there. They have not reported any sexual violence but children who live in shelter homes, short stay homes – a form of institutional care – have a high risk of facing sexual and other forms of violence,” said Shilpi Singh, the director of Bhoomika Vihar. Interestingly, the same argument can be turned on its head, because of the fact that child abuse at homes and in domestic situations goes the most unreported.

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“When a child lives in foster care or under the watchful eyes of community, s/he is constantly monitored by relatives or acquaintances and community members,” she added. “In such cases chances of sexual violence is minimum but does not imply for children living in institutional care because there they are guarded by unknown people.”

Some participants claimed government-run homes avoided rehabilitation of children in relatives’ homes because of greed of separate funds for such children staying in the homes.

Unicef Bihar Programme Manager Shivendra Pandya said non-government organisations need to work collectively for children and share data on them.

Kiran Ghai,  former chairperson of child protection and women empowerment committee, said parents need to understand their children and notice changing behavior, if any. “Parents are the greatest support for children. Parents need to be friendly  so that the children open up before them,” she said.

The main objective  was to facilitate discussion on good practices in keeping children safe from abuse and neglect. The workshop also aimed to highlight the importance of community based non-institutional care for children.

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