August 12, 2011



Disturbing findings in homes for mentally challenged kids

Homes or orphanages for mentally challenged children in Maharashtra are in a pitiable condition and child sexual abuse cannot be ruled out, Dr Asha Bajpayee, TISS faculty, said in her report before the Bombay High Court.

The court appointed an apex committee under Bajpayee, amicus curiae, in August 2010 to study the conditions of welfare homes for mentally challenged children across the state.
About a year ago, there were reports of children being sexually abused and physically exploited at Kavdas orphanage in Shahpur in Thane district, about 90km off Mumbai.

Once the court realised that such a thing was more of a norm than exception, it formed the committee.
The report submitted before the court on July 29, 2011, threw up disturbing findings. There are homes for the mentally challenged in only 20 of the 35 districts.
“The basis on which such homes are opened is suspicious,” says the report. The Directorate of Women and Child Development (DWCD) has not attempted to find out if these children need institutionalisation.

“When a home is sanctioned in any district, a cut has to be paid to the DWCD officer and also to Child Welfare Committee members in the district,” the report alleged. The report questioned “the mushrooming of homes” over the past two year. “This is done for political considerations and it is not in the interest of children.”
Since the study began in August 2010, three homes had to shut down following revelations of child sexual abuse, malnourishment and deaths because of callous officials. Allegations of financial irregularities too had surfaced.

The report says none of the staff at any of the homes is even aware of signs of child sexual abuse. They answer a readymade questionnaire meant for the children, often selecting the “we are not sexually exploited” option. Since the children are mentally challenged, they have no idea of all this, the report alleged.

The government gives Rs1,140 as grant for every child. But most homes, according to the report, fudge the accounts by increasing the number of children. Also, only one home — in Mankhurd — is fully aided. The report pointed out the poor salaries of the administrative staff. “A superintendent gets the highest salary — Rs3,000 a month. This leads to staff shortage, resulting in children being neglected,” Bajpayee told DNA.

Children are transferred from one home to another like cattle without the knowledge of CWC members — a clear contravention of rules, she said. “If a child is seriously ill and there is a probability of his/her death, the child is transferred as no one wants to deal with death. Most of these homes also have adults. Some have even crossed 60,” she said pointing out the lack of coordination between the social justice departments that runs such facilities for adults and children. “A child is condemned as mentally challenged after a questionable IQ test… and the government, which should ideally care for them as state wards, simply leave them to languish in such homes.”

In Amravati division, the committee found that more than 15%of the children were not mentally challenged but they suffered from speech and hearing disabilities. In fact, data compiled by superintendents shows only 41% of the children actually need institutionalised care.

Harish Rathod, joint commissioner of DWCD, said the report was good. “We are studying it and we will ensure action is taken according to its recommendations,” he said.

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