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Government Policies & Welfare Schemes

The girls in the Bihar destitute home used to cut themselves in order to avoid sexual abuse, reports say. Yet, at least 34 of the 44 inmates were found to have suffered severe sexual violence at the time of the Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) audit of the home a few months back. This is one of the 110 shelters in which TISS found a history of abuse. Had it not been for the audit, the state of such shelters might never have come to light.

In the latest revelation, the main abuser, it is alleged, is the head of the shelter home. The state-funded NGO which ran the shelter enabled the violence against the girls, allegedly resulting in abortions and the death of at least one girl. The CBI inquiry which has been instituted is likely to bring more information to light as to how these homes were able to function for so long with no accountability either in their finances or their ability to ensure the welfare of the inmates.

The most worrying part is that the state has a Child Welfare Committee of which the chairperson is now among the accused. The fact that such homes for girls, many of them with special needs, could function in full public view suggests a grievous apathy on the part of the state as well as civil society. Neighbours who heard screams from the home say they did not dare confront those in charge.

Now that this has come to light, all states should enforce mandatory social audits by independent bodies. Shelter homes are meant to provide safe havens for children who have been abandoned or have no family support. But when those who are entrusted with their protection turn predators, the state must take exemplary action to ensure that this does not happen again. It should certainly look at the composition of the staff and re-evaluate their suitability and skills. The main qualification should be that they have the professional skill to deal with young girls and those with special needs. Strict background checks on the staff should also be conducted before they are given these sensitive positions. A major rehaul of the shelter home system should be undertaken not just in Bihar but across India.

First Published: Jul 30, 2018 18:44 IST

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