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Are India’s children safe in child-shelter homes? What’s gone wrong?

If you happen to be in Mumbai and drive past the Bandra flyover, not toward the Sea-link, but through the normal route you’d come across a very poignant statue. It’s a rather intriguing piece of sculpture showing a playful child in the hands of a mother with a heartening quote that states, “A child gives birth to a woman.”

Now, if you happen to be stuck in a traffic snarl as is a usual scenario in Mumbai, you’d get time to reflect more on the mural, bearing the legendary words of Dr Venkatesh Kamat. A woman doesn’t become a mother until she births a child and therefore, it’s the child that empowers a woman to become a mother. But what about children who have no families; are either abandoned or left to feed on the waif-like vulnerability of child shelter homes?

You may be curious to know what became of the Indian Cricket Team’s baffling vulnerability on their England Tour. You might be interested in knowing which is Ranveer Singh or Alia Bhatt’s next Bollywood film. And there might be a curiosity to learn whether Elon Musk has finalised a plan to enter the exuberant Indian market?

Let’s face facts.

shelter homes in India

How often does it occur to us from the four-walled comfort of our Cappuccino-sipping, shopping mall-hopping, social-media obsessing, smartphone-driven lives, that there are children in child shelter homes in India? Or whether they are safe there or not?

That, further, puts us directly under an often less-visited predicament.

Just what goes on inside a child shelter home? Are shelter homes in India- where kids live in lakhs- safe from the rigours and uncertainties of life? The worst case scenario is when the protector becomes the hunter and the one to be safeguarded falls prey.

Exactly over a week ago, some worst fears were realised came and the predicament sounded real when Maneka Gandhi, Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development, ordered an enquiry into the child shelter homes in India. A bomb exploded of sorts when it was told that a child shelter home in Jharkhand, under the aegis of the revered Missionaries of Charity- established with a painstaking effort by Mother Teresa- was involved in a child-smuggling and trafficking racket.

Just how saw that coming? There are hundreds of thousands of child shelter homes in India where we don’t know the actual status of innocent young lives that may not actually be blossoming like a bright flower. At a time where shelter homes, tasked with the safety of women, whether in Muzzafarpur or Deora are found guilty of raping women, the news about child shelter homes pushing small kids on the cusp of human trafficking and molestation is despicable and fraught with inexplicable pain and agony.

shelter homes in India

According to official numbers, there are about 18 million street children in India. Those among them who are fortunate to be given a child shelter home are supposedly tucked into safety, fetched from the streets and placed under the so-called Governmental care and control.

NDTV, one of India’s most revered media platforms recently came out with a report. It stated there are about 2,61,566 children that reside in over 9000 Child Shelter Homes in India. But whether they are protected from the changing vagaries of life and sheltered from the pain and bitterness that life on the streets poses- we don’t know for sure.

Further questions arise on the dubiousness of these so-called charitable homes especially at a time where shelter homes in Bihar, most noticeably in Muzaffarpur have been convicted for raping 34 girls, instead of upholding their dignity. Can someone, somewhere take a firm stand and save India’s vulnerable children?

On August 6, 2018, Police in Uttar Pradesh arrested a woman named Girija Tripathi and her husband, Mohan, on charges of pushing girls in a shelter-home(they themselves ran) toward prostitution. The duo ran a shelter home, specifically for girls and vulnerable young women for decades together. If you wanted to understand just what it means to be evil and morally defunct, you may not have to try hard anymore. Simply visit some astonishing facts that may compel you to believe that India is failing its children and young girls.

On deeper introspection, you realise that the primary basis for the above concern rests in the failure of the state-run child shelter homes to register themselves with the Central government’s scheme and fundamental procedure to keep a track of the number of lives placed within shelter homes in India: Track Child Portal.

Here’s an essential number that cannot be ignored.

Aadhaar cards of over 30,000 children living in child care institutions have been linked to the Track Child portal in a bid to bolster the information base on the number of children under institutional care amid reports of children going missing from shelter homes, an official said.

Track Child functions as a central database of all those children who have gone missing in different parts of the country. The portal will aid coordination between child homes, police departments and state governments.

But that told, it’s rather painful that how sly and rather inefficient have been the authorities, especially in states like UP and Bihar that failed to check on the status and functionality of these so-called shelter homes in India. Ultimately- just who’s in charge of maintaining the safety of at-risk and vulnerable children in India?

At the same time, it’s both bewildering and painful to note that shelter homes run by the revered Tata Institute of Social Sciences have been slack, for the lack of a better word when it comes to protecting the dignity of young lives in Bihar. Officials recently raised a red flag when they received a morbid 100-page report on the morally dilapidated condition of several centres in the Nitish Kumar state where under the dark, predatory figures lurked and robbed young girls of their innocence.

shelter homes in India

Among the states that planned cohesively to take cognisance of India’s rotten fling with shelter, homes are Maharashtra, where as many as 8 researchers spent six months in as many as 38 districts, monitoring, studying 110 shelter homes in India to understand just what went inside. What’s happened to the world’s largest democracy where social science researchers have to engage in espionage in order to separate the wolf in sheep’s clothing?

If India cannot get its act together now, it may never really succeed in sheltering those that need it the most. We don’t have to play Michael Jackson’s soulful ballad Childhood to understand just how important is a child’s dignity in defining that of a country’s. Time to get your act together India.

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Dev Tyagi

Dravid, Black, Lara, Rajasthan, Raikkonen, Finland, Tea, Deserts, Morrison, Espionage, World Peace and disruptive ideas.

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