| Children at a correctional home: “Social orphans... a hidden, voiceless community,” say activists
Every child has the right to a family, be it biological, adoptive or foster. Institutional care should be the last resort. Based on this principal and strengthened by the Juvenile Justice Act 2000, which stresses a movement away from custodial care towards more nurturing systems, CRY (Child Relief & You) has launched a nationwide campaign to promote ‘quality institutional care and alternatives for children’ (QIC&AC).
Implementing the project locally through Praajak, an NGO supported by the funding body that has been working in state homes, and a core committee with representation from a number of other organisations, CRY itself is lobbying for change in the “inequitable” adoption and foster-care policy.
On Thursday, CRY and Praajak organised an interactive seminar with government officials and developmental workers to raise awareness about the project that seeks to improve linkages between the various stakeholder organisations. Held at the Indian Chamber of Commerce, it was also attended by US consul-general George N. Sibley and wife Lee Alison Sibley and Md Salim, state minister for minorities development, welfare and youth services. The consul-general spoke of the need to strengthen global partnerships to protect the rights of the child.
Salim, who inaugurated the meet, criticised “our blind aping” of the West, which has led to disintegration of families, without a social security net in place. The minister also launched a “draft directory” of homes and organisations in the state for “children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with the law”, compiled by Praajak.
Salma, a young girl from a shelter home, spoke of some concerns that children living under the wing of institutions have. “The least children hope to get is clean food,” she stressed. The right to education, vocational training and to take their own decisions were all-important, felt the teenager.
Children living in institutions are “social orphans… a hidden, voiceless community”, said Vandana Kandhari, manager, development and support, CRY. With no data on how many children are living in homes across the country, there is no accounting for these children and their problems.
Till the old Juvenile Justice Act had been modified, law-breakers above the age of 16 were jailed, while under the new Act, minors under 18 are to be kept in homes. “One of the major challenges faced now is how to deal with the children who have been kept in jails. They will be transferred to homes and may face rehabilitation problems,” adds Kandhari.
In 2001, the number of in-country adoptions was almost 1,900 while the inter-country number was just short of 1,200. This is a number developmental workers feel should be increased to keep children within family systems. Sponsorship of families is another proposed option, to provide parents who wish to keep their children the financial means to do so.
Documented problems faced by institutionalised children include susceptibility to physical abuse and trauma, increased anger, aggression, depression, developmental delays and difficulty in adjusting to mainstream society.