Reaching justice to less than thou'

State asks pvt orphanages to register under Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, before December 31.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The bitter resistance staged by private orphanages over the last five months is gradually fizzling out. They either will have to shut down or register under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, before the December 31 deadline set by the Supreme Court. A top source in the Orphanage Control Board said that nearly 115 orphanages across the state will shut down. Top Social Justice officials respond with a knowing smile. “They are just threatening the state,” a district child protection officer in north Kerala said. “Some will of course shut down, but not even half the number the Board had claimed will do so,” the officer said. Social Justice officials may be amused by the resistance but private orphanages seem to be holding out to the last. Except in Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Malappuram, not more than 20 private orphanages have submitted applications in other districts for registration under the JJ Act. Even in Ernakulam and Malappuram, the willing orphanages constitute just 20-30 percent of the total private orphanages in these districts.

Even if some orphanages shut shop, the state would not be unduly worried. “We don’t require so many orphanages in the state,” said K. K. Subair, the district child protection officer in Thiruvananthapuram. “The state’s ideal is deinstitutionalisation. We want children out of welfare institutions, and inside normal homes,” he added. Private orphanages have been traditionally averse to government programmes like ‘foster care’, which gives orphan and semi-orphan kids the family experience of a normal home. These orphanages, lodging nearly 30,000 children below the age of 18, are now governed by the Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes (Supervision and Control) Act, 1960, which keeps them out of control of monitoring agencies and imposes virtually no conditions of care and protection on them. The legislative committee under CPI(M) member M Prakashan Master, which had gone into the functioning of these orphanages, had stated in its report (which came out in 2010) that many of them were run mainly for profit and to further the communal agenda of those who run the homes. It was also found that there was no transparency in their accounts.

Registering under the JJ Act will virtually revolutionise the functioning of private orphanages. Once they have registered under the Act, children can be admitted only through the district Child Welfare Committee. Now, any private orphanage can take in a child with just a ‘destitute certificate’ from the village officer. Even the grant of leave and release of a child will be decided by the CWC. “We have had instances where children were summarily kicked out of orphanages. There were also cases where children were sent on leave and then told not to come back. Such arbitrary practices will cease,” said Subair. Such improprieties could be carried out with impunity because the people in control of the Orphanage Control Board are the ones who run the homes. Under the JJ Act, the government will exercise a firm grip over the functioning of an orphanage. The district child protection officer will chair the management committee of each orphanage.

“There will be too much government interference,” said a spokesperson of Jam'iyyat Da'wa wa Tablighul Islam in Kozhikode. “We have a unique system of functioning and this will be seriously affected,” the spokesperson said, referring to the Muslim way of training and discipline in the home. Here is perhaps the biggest worry. “We will be asked to admit boys and girls we are not interested in,” the spokesperson said. When asked to elaborate she said she meant “troublesome” kids. But when she was probed deeper, it was found that ‘troublesome’ was euphemism for kids from other religions. However, a top Social Justice official said that orphanages run by religious bodies had been assured that children from other religions would not be admitted to their homes. “A Christian or a Hindu kid will not be admitted into a Muslim orphanage as it would create problems for the kid more than the orphanage,” the official said.

There are social advantages of bringing orphanages under JJ Act. One, there would be proper documentation of the children living in these homes. Two, there will be constant monitoring and supervision of these homes, a measure not undertaken under the Orphanages Act, 1960. Three, children from private orphanages will be available for adoption; in other words, Child care institutions. Specialised adoption agency (SAA)-Child care institution (CCA) linkage will be made possible.

JJ Act detailed, comprehensive

The Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes (Supervision and Control) Act, 1960 does not have enough checks and balances to ensure that the child is put in the right home. It is rich in idealism but vague on specifics. The JJ Act, which was passed incorporating the progressive ideals enshrined in the Child Rights Covenant the country had ratified in 1992, is comprehensive and detailed. For instance, the JJ Act has laid down that each child in a home should be provided a space of 40 sq feet. It also specified a staff strength of two for every inmate; so a home with 50 inmates should have a permanent staff of 20 and temporary staff of five.

(This is just a suggested staff pattern and not mandatory as private orphanages are now claiming. However, if the orphanages want to secure government grants for salary, the new staff pattern has to be in place.) The Act also specifies that there should be at least one latrine for seven children, and at least one bathroom for ten. Under the 1960 Act, there are no such stipulations. Further, homes registered under the 1960 Act cannot be pulled up by monitoring agencies like child welfare committees which have executive powers. The JJ Act also seeks to make a radical shift in the approach to welfare. If earlier, it was seen as a charity. The JJ Act insists that it is the right of a child to be taken care of.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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