The fate of seven minors who have delivered their babies at a childcare home in Bhopal during the past six months hangs in the balance.
Cast off by their families and in the absence of any law, these girls – all victims of rape or forced marriage – live in a tiny room at the childcare home with their babies, hoping to get a call from their parents when they grow up.
One such girl is 16-year-old Asha (name changed). As she was neglected and reviled by her family members being a girl child, she fell in love with a boy and eloped with him.
Asha’s family members traced both of them and made a complaint to the police who arrested the boy for allegedly raping her and sent him to jail.
Her parents sent her to the shelter home where Asha delivered a girl child five months ago, but she is waiting for her 18th birthday to come out of the home.
JJ Act mum on the issue, say activists
Child rights activists say even the Juvenile Justices Act keeps mum on the issue.
A caretaker of the childcare home says, “The girls don’t know what’s in store for them and their babies. Yet, they hope their families will accept them. The partners of these girls who are in jail want to come out and bring up their babies.”
Shahbaz Khan Sherwani, programme coordinator of HAQ Centre for Child Rights, says, “Getting pregnant and delivering babies at an age, when the girls should be in schools and play with their peers, is a serious issue which, in the absence of specific provisions in the JJ Act, becomes more complicated. As these girls are living in a childcare home, the government needs to pay special attention to them, as it’s a matter of their health, too.”
‘CWC and women and child development dept can take a decision on such a serious issue’
A Delhi-based child rights activist Bharti Sharma says, “Yes, there are no rules for such minor mothers and their babies, but everything can’t be in black and white. The child welfare committee (CWC) and the women and child development department have the powers to take a decision on such a serious issue.”
“If pregnancy is not of more than 12 weeks, they should counsel the girls to go for abortion. If it is of more than 12 weeks and can’t be aborted, the girls should be told to give their babies to someone for adoption through proper counselling. As these girls depend on others, they cannot secure a better future for their children,” says Sharma.
However, the woman and child welfare department does not have a counsellor, say officials.
“Although we try to provide safety to the girls, counselling is a problem. Counsellors should be qualified enough to read the minds of such girls and guide them accordingly without getting emotional with them,” says Rekha Shridhar, a member of CWC.
Superintendent of the shelter Kirti says, “Some of them had eloped with their boyfriends who were accused of rape by the girls’ parents and sent to prisons. And the girls were sent to the shelter. We’re taking care of them by providing safe and homely environment, but want a solution to this problem.
Child rights activist Prashant Dubey says, “The future of these girls is uncertain. There must be a specific provision in the JJ Act for such cases.”