Hapless children of a lesser god

NOBODYS BABY: GOVT PASSES BUCK TO THE CENTRE WHILE KIDS WAIT FOR JUSTICE

May God rest her soul in peace. Except a few other inmates at Arya Orphanage in Central Delhi, not many people shed tears at Rajni's untimely death at 11, following sexual abuse and several ailments.

According to the Juvenile Justice Act, every children’s home or orphanage has to be registered, allowing monthly or  tri-monthly inspection by the government-appointed Child Welfare Committee.  DH Photo/ Chaman GautamNor were many shocked, simply because she was not the first child in the country to have been sexually exploited by a caregiver or fellow-residents at a children's home. 

Delhi's Social Welfare Minister Kiran Walia talked with Deccan Herald of “making an example” of the culprits in the case. That, of course, will depend on how the investigation goes.

A case has been registered at Daryaganj police station and a 13-year-old-boy
apprehended for his involvement.  Meanwhile, two other boys staying at the same orphanage have also reported being sodomised.

Three staffers have also been arrested. But the administration of the orphanage, Arya Ananthalaya, maintains that the institution is being victimised. Delhi government has appointed an administrator to carry out an inquiry, independent of the police.

Delhi government officials  have tried washing their hands off the affair, saying the Daryaganj orphanage was not registered with the government, and there was little they could have done about it.

According to the Juvenile Justice Act, every children's home or orphanage has to be registered, allowing monthly or tri-monthly inspection by the government-appointed Child Welfare Committee. This includes interviewing children about their grievances.

The law also says that any child being brought to an orphanage has to be first presented before a Child Welfare Committee, set up in each of the nine districts of Delhi, and then sent to a particular orphanage or child home.

Arya Orphanage was not registered and hence functioned independent of government regulations. But then the question arises, if an orphanage is not registered with the government, can't the government still act?

“The Juvenile Justice Act says that every child home or orphanage should be registered with the government but the law is silent about imposing any penalty or action against it for non-registration. We could do nothing about it,” said Kiran Walia. She said Delhi government would write to the Central government seeking to define punitive actions in the JJ Act.

When Bharti Ali, co-director of Haq  –  the non-governmental organisation which helped police in questioning children at Arya Orphanage –  was told about Walia's stand, she was bewildred. Ali asked if aliens from Jupiter would come and make the law of the land.

“The JJ Act was enacted by the Central government, defining the broad outlines while leaving state governments to make their own laws regarding whatever action or penalty they want to impose on erring orphanages,” Ali added.

“In a federal structure like ours, the state governments have lots of power and you can see it in various other laws. But Delhi government did not bother to define punishment for non-registration. They have no one but themselves to blame,” she said.

While the blame game continues, the fact remains that there is no defined punishment for such orphanages. Ali suggests taking over the management of such orphanages as one possible remedy.

“In cases like Arya Orphanage, the first thing government could do is take over its management till the case is decided by the court. I am sure till these people control the orphanage, the investigation will suffer and children living there can be influenced,” she said. There are also no clear figures on the number of orphanages and children's homes in the city, though some estimates say about 8,000 kids  — orphans and those from poor homes — could be staying in such private institutes.

Years ago, Delhi Police began a drive against unregistered orphanages and it is known to have got a good response.

“When police reached the doors of these unregistered homes, they came running to the government to get registered. About Arya Orphanage, the case is sub-judice as they went to the court when government insisted it should get registered. However, no such drive is being planned by the police in the city so far,” Ali said.

Additional deputy commissioner of police (central) Aslam Khan said police keep bringing unregistered orphanages to the notice of the Child Welfare Committee.

“It is not in our domain since it involves various socio-economic aspects also. However, we do keep an eye on illegal children's homes and bring them to the notice of the government. In normal routine we take whatever is the necessary action after the Child Welfare Committee asks us,” said Khan.

The bottom line is this: The government machinery is bound by law. The law is mute or undefined at several places in the  JJ Act, and people keep misusing this silence.  Delhi government should make sure that Rajni's death was not in vain.

The name of the victim has been changed.

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