Sangeeta (name changed), a 15 year old girl living in a shelter home of Ranchi refuses to go back home. She was raped by her step father around a year ago and was moved to the shelter home when the matter came to light.
An FIR was lodged and her step father was arrested. However, under the pressure of her mother, she was forced to change her statement in the court which led to the acquittal of the criminal.
In her statement to child welfare committee (CWC) Ranchi the minor was adamant not to go home as she felt unsafe and was worried that she might again be harassed by her step father.
Meanwhile, on being contacted, mother of the girl said that the allegations of the girl against her step father are false. “She has been cooking stories. We want her back at home but she is not ready to come,” said the mother of the girl.
Chairperson of Ranchi CWC Rupa Kumari said that the child’s best interest is the concern of CWC and sending her back home would put her safety at risk.
Kumari pointed out that there are around a dozen of girls in Ranchi’s girls’ shelter home who refuse to go back home. “In most of the cases, they have either been abused by one of their family member or being sold away by the family itself. These girls fear the same incident being repeated and thus refuse going back home,” Kumari said.
This is not just the situation in shelter homes of Ranchi but also in other districts. Chairperson of Jharkhand State Commission for Child Rights (JSCPCR), Arti Kujur, who frequently visits the shelter homes of the State said, “Around 15% to 20% children in almost every shelter home do not want to go home as they feel unsafe at their own homes or do not any immediate family.”
Member of CWC Simdega Meera Kumari claimed that there are similar cases in her district. “There is a girl who was being forcefully married off by her parents. She managed to run away and was brought to CWC. Now, she refuses to go home claiming that her parents would get her married. Also, her parents do not seem to be interested in taking back the child as they have not contacted us despite us sending them summons several times,” she said.
Similarly, there are around 15 girls in Khunti’s shelter home who do not wish to return home. Member of CWC Khunti, Baidnath Kumar said that CWC tries to repatriate the child in their best interest. "We try counseling both parents and children because shelter home is not a permanent solution as it keeps the child away from family as well as the mainstream society," he said.
In some cases where the children do agree to go back home after counseling, CWC summons the parents along with the child for counseling every 14 days, at least for two months, to ensure that the child is safe. Those girls who are adamant to not return home are enrolled in residential schools like Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) so that they are linked with education. These girls return to shelter home during holidays.
However, the problem arises because every shelter home has a limited capacity. For instance, Premashray, the girls’ shelter home in Ranchi has a capacity of 50 girls but is currently housing 53, as there is no alternate option.
A staff at Premashray said, “The girls come to the shelter home during holidays because they have nowhere else to go once the school is closed. In such situation, if more children come in suddenly, adjusting them becomes a huge issue.”
Also, with more number of children living in shelter homes the pendency of cases under CWC increases. Rupa Kumari said, “Unless the child is not repatriated, CWC cannot release the child. While the reason for pendency is genuine, there is a need to find permanent solution to this problem.”
Foster care system can prove to be a good alternative for such children, suggested Baidnath Kumar. He said, “In foster care the child can get the love of family he or she deserves.”
Agreeing with Kumar, Rupa Kumari said that there is a provision for both single foster and group foster. Under single foster, a child is sent to live with a family which can meet all their need while group foster is a system where a social organization takes up the responsibility of looking after a group of children during the holidays of residential schools they are studying in.
However, CWC Ranchi chairperson pointed out the sad reality about lack of awareness of foster care system among citizens. “First of all there is no social organization in the city which offers group foster. As far as single foster is concerned, not many people know that there is any provision like this and the number of applications we get is very less,” she said.
Kumari added, “There is a dire need to spread awareness about the foster system and CWC along with the state women and child development department is working towards spreading awareness.”
JSCPCR chairperson pointed out that even if such children do stay at shelter homes till they are adult, once they attain the age of 18 they cannot be kept in the homes. “In such a situation they have nowhere to go. Linking these children with skill development programmes can help provide a long term situation,” she said.
(This report is a part of NFI Media Programme 2019)