SC shocked over 2 lakh children ‘missing’ in survey on child care institutions

It was told that as per a 2016-17 survey carried out at the directions of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the number of children living in child care institutions was around 4.73 lakh, while the data filed in the court by the government this March says it was about 2.61 lakh.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2018 23:43 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
New Delhi
Child care,Child care institutions,Supreme Court
The counsel representing the Centre told the court that the government had compiled the data supplied by states and union territories about the number of children living in child care institutions and filed the report in this regard in March. (Representative photo)

Biting, pinching, restriction on movement, withholding food, rest and use of toilet, and using abusive languages are some of the methods deployed in child care institutions across the country to discipline children admitted there, the Supreme Court was informed on Tuesday.

This was revealed in a survey conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in 2016-2017 in association with NGO Childline.

Advocate Aparna Bhat made this submission before a bench led by Justice MB Lokur, which is hearing a matter related to exploitation of children in shelter homes and orphanages.

The NCPCR had covered 9,000 homes and the regressive methods to discipline children were found in 4,416 homes.

Bhat, who is assisting the bench, also revealed a startling discrepancy in the government data on number of children living in such institutions, leaving the judges baffled.

According to her, the NCPCR survey, commissioned by the Centre, showed that 4.73 lakh children were living in over 9,000 shelter homes. However, the latest government affidavit filed before the top court in March said that only 2.61 lakh children were living in 8,734 homes.

“It is distressing to see that children have been reduced to numbers. They are children. Even they have heart and a soul. This is a very serious matter,” the bench said.

“Two lakh children, where are they? Where do we trace them,” Justice Lokur asked the Centre’s advocate, R Balasubramanyam, who suggested there could be an error in the NCPCR survey.

The lawyer said the child care institutions might have given inflated figures to get more aid.

Justice Deepak Gupta, also on the bench, remarked: “If it’s an inflated figured then the money involved is mind-boggling. The government pays ~2,000 to look after every child. This would go into crores.”

Justice Lokur, however, rejected Balasubramanyam’s suggestion and asked him whether the Centre cross-checked with the states.

“These figures are alarming. Surveys do have errors but it cannot be 100 per cent,” he said.

Seeking answers from the Centre, the court proposed setting up of national-level and state-level committees for monitoring and overview of shelter homes. While the states did not oppose it, Centre expressed reservation. The committees are likely to comprise government officials and members of civil society. A retired judge will likely head it.

Interestingly, Bhat said, the NCPCR survey showed that 50,000 children in these homes were ready for adoption but government agencies were not willing to adopt non-institutional measures for such kids.

She even pointed out that the NCPCR survey also covered the Muzaffarpur shelter home, where cases of child sexual abuse got exposed recently, and recorded how children were mentally tortured, physically beaten and verbally abused. She wondered why the children did not reveal about the sexual abuse then but had given the details to TISS later.

“Possibly they did not speak because a government official and a representative of the shelter home accompanied the NCPCR team. Yet, they mustered courage to speak against the physical torture. However, it appears no action was taken then,” she submitted.

Court also came down heavily on West Bengal government for not setting up child welfare committees in all the States.

“This is absolutely wrong...Absolutely wrong. You have the issue of babies being sold in West Bengal. You must have read in newspapers and you don’t have CWCs,” Justice Lokur said, even as the state counsel claimed that committees had been set up in two districts. Process of selecting members for other districts was on, the court was informed.

First Published: Aug 21, 2018 21:58 IST