Bihar to seek Supreme Court directive on retaining Muzaffarpur shelter girls

The social welfare department now finds itself in a piquant situation, as to whether to allow the girls to go home or retain them in shelters to protect them from being influenced by vested interests.
Currently, a trial in the case under the prevention of children from sexual offences (POCSO) act is underway at a lower court in Saket, Delhi. The case is being monitored by the Supreme Court.(File)
Currently, a trial in the case under the prevention of children from sexual offences (POCSO) act is underway at a lower court in Saket, Delhi. The case is being monitored by the Supreme Court.(File)
Published on Mar 02, 2019 01:56 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Patna | By

Bihar will seek directions from the Supreme Court (SC) on retaining rescued girls in the Muzaffarpur shelter case after many expressed their desire to return home, following the recent recovery of all seven girls who fled from the Nazareth Academy shelter at Mokama last Saturday.

Four of the seven girls who fled were victims and key witnesses in the Muzaffarpur sex abuse case and had been relocated there after closure of the horror home last year.

The social welfare department now finds itself in a piquant situation, as to whether to allow the girls to go home or retain them in shelters to protect them from being influenced by vested interests.

Currently, a trial in the case under the prevention of children from sexual offences (POCSO) act is underway at a lower court in Saket, Delhi. The case is being monitored by the Supreme Court.

“From the court’s point of view, they are key witnesses who have to be protected. We have to ensure that no one tries to manipulate them in a manner that can affect the trial in court. From the girls’ perspective, they are victims, who now want to go home. They were highly traumatised initially and required expert counselling, which we are providing them,” said Atul Prasad, principal secretary of the social welfare department, Bihar.

“The girls now feel that holding them back in shelters is an infringement of their freedom and rights. We will place all facts before the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the case, and seek a direction. We are fine either way — retaining the girls in government shelters or releasing them to be with their respective families,” he added.

Though Prasad sang paeans to the Nazareth Academy shelter, he said some girls wanted to go home.

Prasad said the government had decided to rope in professional experts to handle the psychological issue of girls.

“We have sought an expert opinion from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. We have asked it to assess the well-being of girls and make a rehabilitation plan, based on which we will move court. We have sought within two weeks a preliminary report, detailing rehabilitation plan of every single girl,” said Prasad.

Teams from NIMHANS and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, were here a couple of days back to talk to the girls, some of whom are believed to be minors. Sources said some girls were sensible enough to understand that returning home at this stage might jeopardise the trial, as vested interests could try to influence them either directly or through their family members, by gratification or coercion.

Psychological experts and government officials were on a common plain and favoured a fair and speedy trial.

The Muzaffarpur shelter home case came to light after the social welfare department asked the TISS to do a social audit of all its 110 shelters in June 2017. Forty-four shelter home girls from Muzaffarpur were rescued on May 29, 2018, following allegations of sexual abuse, and shifted to different shelters in Patna, Mokama and Madhubani. On May 31, the department lodged a police complaint at Muzaffarpur.

Medical examination suggested that 34 of the 42 girls examined in June and July last year might have been sexually abused.

Bihar recommended a CBI probe on July 26 last year. The Supreme Court had on November 28, 2018, transferred all 16 shelter home cases to CBI. It had on February 7 ordered transfer of trial of Muzaffarpur shelter case from Patna to a POCSO court in Delhi. The apex court had also ordered commencement of trial within two weeks and finishing hearing within six months.

Twenty persons have so far been arrested. Among them was Brajesh Thakur, the alleged mastermind behind the crime who was reportedly patronising the NGO (Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti), which operated the Muzaffarpur shelter.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ruchir writes on health, aviation, power and myriad other issues. An ex-TOI, he has worked both on Desk and in reporting. He over 25 years of broadcast and print journalism experience in Assam, Jharkhand & Bihar.

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