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Abuse ‘joke’ finger at Maneka

New Delhi, Nov. 28: A statistic quoted by Maneka Gandhi on child abuse in protection homes appears to suggest that such institutions are safer for children than their own homes, activists have said.

The women and child development minister today told Parliament the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had registered only 31 cases of child abuse in protection homes in the last three years.

In contrast, the National Crime Records Bureau has recorded 1,199 cases of child abuse by parents and relatives in the same period.

The NCRB collates data from states and does not give sector-specific information. So it has data on crimes against children but not specifically where these take place. The women and child development ministry has, therefore, relied in this case on NCPCR, which however does not have the full information.

Child rights activists have accused the government of lack of seriousness in addressing child abuse. They said the figure quoted by Maneka suggested that children sent to protection homes under the Juvenile Justice Act were safer than those who lived in their own homes.

“It is foolish to quote a figure from NCPCR, which is a Delhi-based commission and largely defunct,” said Anant Kumar Asthana, a child rights activist and lawyer.

“The ministry largely depends on NCRB data to make policy decisions when it should conduct its own studies on issues related to women and children and (subsequently) generate statistics — that is the only way to know the extent of a problem.”

Stressing that only statistics could pinpoint the “extent of abuse”, Asthana said: “Only when you know how many children are being abused in such homes would you be able to design programmes and (plan) interventions for them.”

He said the data reeled out by Maneka was “misleading and seems to imply the absence of a problem, which is in fact quite widespread”.

A report on child abuse brought out by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) last year said sexual abuse was rampant in such homes, with children being repeatedly assaulted by people associated with these institutions — such as home managers, directors, owners, founders and their relatives and friends, caretakers, wardens, cooks, drivers, security guards, gatekeepers, senior inmates and outsiders, including security personnel.

“The number she mentioned in Parliament is a joke,” said Suhas Chakma, the director of ACHR. “In reality, no one knows for real how many children are being abused in such homes. This is because most state governments have not formed inspection committees which are mandated under the Juvenile Justice Act to inspect such homes once every three months to check on the children and report abuse.”

Activists said the ministry had not been able to enforce the monitoring provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act in states, which has resulted in large-scale exploitation of children. “No separate budgetary allocation has been made under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme for the functioning of the inspection committees,” Chakma said.

This correspondent asked 20-year-old Ramesh (name changed), who spent two years in a juvenile home in Delhi, what his experience had been like.

“It (sexual abuse) is something no one talks about. Sometimes it’s like wahan rehne ke liye karna padta hai jo purane hai unke liye (to stay there you have to do it, for those who have long been there) and sometimes it is the staff doing whatever they want because we have no one to go to. Each one of us would suffer this. If you refuse, they would beat you severely,” said Ramesh.