There are no takers for child rights in Himachal Pradesh. The repeated incidents of sexual assaults and other inhumane treatment with the children living in children’s homes have become a black spot on the state which is otherwise peaceful. These happenings have exposed the functioning of department of social justice and empowerment of the state. Still there are no rules or minimum standards laid down by the government to start and run children’s homes.
The painful memories of last year’s infamous incident in which four teachers of one residential institute for deaf girls in Shimla were arrested for raping the innocent deaf inmates for months are still alive in the minds of people. In 2002 a minor deaf girl inmate of a residential institute for blind and deaf in Dhalli near Shimla had become pregnant in the hostel. The reason was that there was no separate hostel campus for boys and girls. This case was taken up by the National Human Rights Commission and it awarded Rs. Five Lakh as compensation to the victim. Last year only, the state government released this amount. That institute is run by the State Council for Child Welfare, Himachal Pradesh.
It is pertinent to mention that the Governor is the head of the State Council for Child Welfare and Chief Minister, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment are included in its office bearers. After that incident the girls’ section was shifted to Sunder Nagar in district Mandi. But no improvement was brought in the miserable condition of the institute and human rights violation of blind and deaf inmates is still continuing.
Now in the latest incident, the incharge of a tribal girls’ hostel at Salogra in District Solan has been arrested for molesting and outraging the modesty of minor tribal girls. This once again highlighted the failure of the state to put in place a mechanism to regulate the functioning of homes for minors and protect the rights of the inmates.
In March last a case of male teachers’ sexually exploiting the deaf minor girl inmates at Prerna Institute, run by an NGO in Totu, Shimla had come to light. At that time a deaf young girl Shikha Sood had become the torch bearer and on her complaint the police arrested the accused teachers. A prominent human rights activist and Chairman of Umang Foundation Mr. Ajai Srivastava had exposed the lapses on government’s part that lead to the heinous crime with deaf girls. After his intervention the Chief Minister instituted an inquiry and six homes for children with disabilities in the state were ordered to close down their functioning.
Besides these major incidents, which could not be swept under the carpet, instances of exploitation of inmates including disabled children, who are even denied the basic minimum amenities, have been coming to light every now and then. The reasons for the despicable living conditions in the homes and hostels for minors are not far to seek. The state government has neither set up the state commission for protection of child rights nor laid down any norms to ensure basic minimum amenities to provide a healthy, exploitation-free environment for the inmates in such homes. In the absence of any norms children are packed in dingy rooms, without proper toilets and bathrooms in such homes that lack recreation facilities.
Ajai Srivastava, the whistle blower who blew the lid off the murky happenings in the tribal girls hostel run by Adim Jati Sewak Sangh near Solan said, “A victim girl of 13 years age was admitted at Indira Gandhi Medical College Hospital, Shimla for suffering from deep depression. During the counselling by psychiatrists, she revealed the story. Having got lead from a doctor, we met the victim and her mother in the hospital. Then we informed the police that immediately raided the hostel and arrested the incharge of the hostel.”
He said, ” It is shocking that at a time when norms like minimum area of enclosure, diet and veterinary care have been prescribed for keeping wild animals in captivity in the zoos, there are no such regulations for homes and hostels for children who are being treated worse than animals.” The lapses like why 30 girls were lodged in a small hall and why a male hostel incharge was looking after the hostel would have been taken care of if the government had framed norms, he observes.
It could be disturbing to know that there in no information with the state government about the number of children’s home and their inmates. State Government has not bothered to enforce the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, which mandates that all laws, policies, programmes and schemes should aim at protecting the child rights. Various states have taken steps to enforce the Act and commissions for protection of child rights have been set up in five states, including Sikkim, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Delhi. However, Himachal has chosen to remain completely oblivious to the violation of child rights.
Now, it is time that all hostels and homes for minors, are brought under one agency, preferably the Social Justice and Welfare Department. Besides framing norms specifying parameters like minimum covered and open area, number of toilets, kitchen, staff, specified diet, medicare, sports and other amenities, a provision for the annual renewal of permission to run the home be introduced for proper enforcement. Permission should be granted only after inspection by a committee as in the case of professional institutions.
It is need of the hour that the state government should come out with a policy to safeguard the rights of the children and lay down norms for children’s homes. A statutory regulatory authority to ensure proper and regular monitoring of the homes for minors in the state is immediately required to prevent such incidents.