The shocking story of the two-year-old baby, abandoned by her parents and successive custodians, struggling for life at AIIMS, and her alleged tormentor, a 14-year-old who herself is a victim of multiple rape and abuse, could be told many times over in this city. In Delhi, at least two children are found abandoned and 10 go missing every day.
These children are either snatched away from or given up by their parents, most of them poor migrants. Some are trafficked into brothels. Some become fodder for adoption rackets. The rest lands up on roads. Those who get noticed by the state are sent to care homes where neglect, and often brutality, forces many to escape. Some die, most grow up delinquents, and many end up
It is convenient to blame the influx of poor migrants for the number of destitute and abandoned in Delhi. But across the world, all cities attract migrants. Unlike the Chinese practice of Hukou where one requires a work permit to enter a city, our Constitution honours the citizen’s fundamental right to movement anywhere within the country. That’s how it is in much of the democratic world.
It is precisely because of this migration-induced artificial population boom that every city finds it so challenging to meet the demand for continuous infrastructural growth in terms of housing, transport, education or healthcare. In the developed world, the challenge is to maintain the quality of infrastructure and services in the face of constant population influx. In a country like India, where much of the city-bound migration transfers poverty, the bigger challenge is to achieve quantity, to keep developing enough baseline capacity for covering an ever-growing population of the migrant poor.
Forget about widening the welfare net, even the piecemeal support infrastructure the capital has is, put mildly, dysfunctional. Almost all care homes run by the government are overcrowded — the five homes for abandoned girls, with a capacity to house 339, pack as many as 436. These facilities face severe shortage of trained manpower and are unable to provide basic education or healthcare. In a shelter for the mentally challenged, 12 residents died within a month in 2009.
Delhi government spends around 8% of the annual planned budget under the social welfare head. But funds cannot change attitude. Most babus working in the social welfare department anyway consider their postings a punishment. Involving the private sector, however, can bring in the required skill at no extra cost. Also, a bhagidari approach involving volunteers among the youth, senior citizen or housekeepers can change the jailhouse atmosphere of these homes.
Delhi’s homes must partner with private schools and hospitals, promote NGOs that can bring in professionals such as psychiatrists and counsellors, and also rope in corporate houses for setting up computer centres, libraries, games facilities etc. For all these to happen, the government must first open the doors of what are now squalid detention centres. To ensure transparency, an independent supervising council can be formed with eminent citizens who will take turns to check, hands on, how the homes are actually run.
Running homes, however, is the very last line of any welfare defence.
If basic welfare schemes, in job, housing or healthcare, reach the urban poor a little upstream and in time, the government will not find itself so bogged down mopping up the flood of abandoned children on the capital’s roads.