Haryana and Punjab have witnessed a spate of incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation of young girls and boys in shelter homes, etc. over the past few months. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), a national-level statutory body set up to protect, promote and defend child rights, is probing some of these cases.
Prof Shantha Sinha, chairperson of NCPCR, spoke to HT about the systemic deficiencies, poor monitoring and the need to change the mindset of officials in these states.
As the incidents of crimes against children, especially girls, are on the rise in the two states, what can be done to provide protection to children?
Children have to come on the radar of the state government. The top brass, including the chief secretary, needs to deal with the issues of security, welfare and rights of children on top priority. The political executive must support them. These states do not have a mechanism to deal with these important matters and they must realise this. The state governments have a lot to do in this area. A beginning can be the formulation of a child policy.
Punjab and Haryana have established the Right to Education Protection Authority (REPA) instead of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), despite repeated requests from the NCPCR and the Centre. Can it be a substitute for SCPCR?
It's high time these states set up the SCPCR. There cannot be any excuse for not establishing such an important institution. REPA is not enough, because it is not only about the Right to Education of children. There is the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2011 and so many other issues pertaining to child rights that need attention of the authorities in the states.
After an NCPCR team exposed the exploitation of children at a shelter run by an NGO in Rohtak, allegations of insensitivity and a cover-up attempt have surfaced against the local authorities. What do you have to say?
There is no way any cover up will be allowed. I think there is enough pressure from the NCPCR and the media. The authorities recognise that there is no getting away from this now. We are closely monitoring this case and also the ones in Gurgaon.
Are you satisfied with the response of the Haryana government and the monitoring mechanism in the state?
The state does not have the systemic capacity, nor are its people trained to deal with such situations. The mindset has to change. The officials need to be sensitised towards the rights of children. They have been indifferent. The departments of the Haryana government do not have complete information on the number of shelter homes in the state.
They just say there are roughly 4,000 children in these homes, but no break-up of how many of these centres have residential or have day-care facilities and how these are run. The state officials have been asked to map out all these centres, information on children, facilities, funding, etc.
As many children are from states such as Bihar and Jharkhand, efforts should be made to track their families and repatriate them. The working of shelter homes must be looked at closely.
The scandal-hit Rohtak NGO, Bharat Vikas Sangh, had received huge grants from the central and state governments under a dozen schemes. Will the NCPCR probe these transactions?
How did they do it? It is baffling. How could all the things that were happening there have gone unnoticed? There are issues about the procedures involved in vetting of proposals from the NGOs for funding. We have asked the state to take a number of measures, but have not looked at the vetting part of the proposals so far.
What about the demand of the opposition parties for a CBI inquiry into the Rohtak shelter home case?
I think it is a bit premature at this moment. The state director general of police has promised to pay personal attention to this case and also fix responsibility of those at fault.