No regular meals, dirty bed sheets and rotten mattresses to sleep on, contaminated water to drink, dingy toilets and filthy leaking rooms.
No, that's not what Oliver Twist's home looks like in Charles Dickens' famed novel by the same name. It is just a modest description of the Delhi government-run Children Home for Boys at Narela, where 110 children are "living like animals".
They can't protest if they fall ill. If they do they are tortured. That's what the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) found out after an inquiry on September 19.
"It is totally unacceptable that such institutions inflict violence on children depriving them of basic human rights," said NCPCR chairperson Shantha Sinha, who ordered inquiry. Sinha has asked Delhi Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta to take action against erring officials and improve living conditions in the home.
When Hindustan Times went to the home, they were not allowed to meet the children. An official said mediapersons were not allowed entry as per regulations of the Juvenile Justice Act.
Most of the children either came on their own or were allured to Delhi in search of a better life. But they ended up roaming about on the streets. The government sent them to protection homes so that they could be sent back to their families. But that did not happen for most because of very little effort by the authorities, the NCPCR found in the inquiry.
These children are treated like slaves: they cook for themselves and the staff in a dark, dirty kitchen; they clean their rooms and toilets and double up as waiters when visitors come to meet officials, the inquiry report said.
"The rooms they were living in were stinking and tubelights, fans and coolers in most rooms were not functional. Children in the age group of four to 11 complained of not getting regular food and were not provided with clothes as required under the Juvenile Justice Act," the inquiry committee found. Only a few children were going to school and the remaining were found loitering around in the campus.
When 10-year-old Kishan's foot was infected after a minor accident, he did not get any medical aid. Others like Pintoo have developed skin infections, apparently because of damp living conditions. "Regular medical check-ups of children are not being conducted, the report said.
The inquiry committee headed by NCPCR registrar Binod K. Sahu also found that three mentally challenged children and a dumb boy were also living there without any medical facilities. The committee asked the government to shift them immediately to other institution that provided special care for such children.
It is not that the Delhi government does not have the money to provide basic facilities to these children. It spends a minimum of Rs 5,000 every month on each child, which the NCPCR said, was enough for decent living.
But respite may not be coming soon. A senior official with the Social Welfare Department, which manages all children homes, said they had taken cognizance of the NCPCR report. "These children would be shifted to another home in Alipur once toilets are built there. It will happen by December this year," the official told HT, emphasising that efforts were being made to improve living conditions in such homes.
The NCPCR slammed the lackadaisical attitude of officials. "The recreation is symbolic and there is no counseling programme. There is no effective system of management and supervision of such homes by senior officers," the committee said, while recommending measures to provide a better life to these "lost" children.