Over the last few weeks there has been extensive news coverage on coverage around the death of a child, and the post-mortem showing rape and sodomy in the Arya Anaythalaya, and the report by HAQ:Centre for Child Rights and the Child Welfare Committee, Mayur Vihar, Delhi that children are being subjected to violence and abuse inside the home.
A lot has also been written about HAQ’s role and our report which was prepared in co-operation with the Delhi Police. Unfortunately, as it often happens with media reporting, a lot is said, but much remains unsaid or inadequately reported.
In the mean time, the back lash has also begun. The management of the orphanage have accused HAQ of being vindictive and malicious. They have accused HAQ of using “third degree measures” to talk to children and have announced that they plan to serve a legal notice to HAQ. Indeed, in the latest press reports, the management of the Orphanage have tried to even give it a communal colour by saying that we have are being vindictive to them for communal reasons(See Times of India, 14 February page 5). Needless to say such allegations are not just absurd, but indeed can be dangerous in an area that is already sensitive in this respect.
For those of us who have been taking on such initiatives and fighting for children's protection, the story may sound very familiar.
It is in this backdrop, it becomes imperative that the facts of the case as they are be recorded and presented.
It all began when an 11 year old child of Arya Anathalaya had died due to diarrohoea and whose postmortem and some other medical reports declared that she had been subjected to repeated vaginal and anal sexual abuse.
Since the child was no more, investigation in the case had become difficult, on 27th January 2012,the Delhi Police (Central District) sought HAQ’s assistance in talking to the other children in the Orphanage to see if they had something to say that could help them with carrying the investigation process forward.
To facilitate this, a meeting was held in which the HAQ team, on 27th January itself a meeting was held at the office of Additional Commissioner of Police, Central District, Daryaganj, which was attended by senior police officials the police investigation team, some staff members of Kanya Sadan, Arya Anathalaya and the Principal of the government school being operated within the premises of Arya Anathalaya and HAQ representatives.
The HAQ team was introduced to the members of the orphanage and they were informed that the team will be visiting the orphanage and would talk to the children staying there. Their co-operation in this regard was sought.
It was only after this meeting that the a team of two-three HAQ members, accompanied by with a team of Delhi Police personnel consisting of a Sub Inspector (SI), the investigating officer (IO ) and two lady police officers from the Jama Masjid Police Station, began visiting the Anathalaya and talking to children in groups and individually. The children were scared to talk, but slowly began to open up. The team spoke to boys and to the girls.
Suddenly on 3rd February 2012, HAQ was stopped from entering the premises on the grounds. The management of the orphanage demanded that the Delhi Police appoint a government counsellor instead of HAQ. According to the management, since the institution was not covered by the Juvenile Justice Act (they are not registered under the Act), they have the right not allow outsiders to come in and investigate on internal matters.
Nevertheless, even in the brief period that we were able interact with the children, what came out was that while the institution provides good food and clothing to children, there is gross violation of many standards of care and protection. Our experience of working with children, counselling child survivors of all kinds of crimes as well as children in conflict with law, holding workshops with children on child rights, child protection and children's participation, as well as preparing training manuals on child abuse and child protection helped us a great deal in proceeding with the interactions with children in the orphanage and helped them to share their stories and concerns with us.
Song, dance and drawing sessions and interactions held with children in groups brought to light tales of abuse, the fact that children were scared of the staff in the institution, that they wouldn't even go anywhere near their warden's bed as that could put them in trouble and would avoid seeking medical assistance from the person in-charge of the dispensary if ever required as she would scold and beat them up for approaching her. The children shared heart rending stories of physical abuse, mental cruelty and sexual abuse ranging from eve-teasing and molestation to rape and sodomy.
There are several infrastructure related issues as well that the children are unhappy about. Because of the way the children are housed, smaller children who are kept on the upper floor, find access to food, dispensary and other basic services difficult. Some toilets in the primary school operating within the same premises remain locked forcing girls and boys to use the same toilet.
What is more, the staff is completely untrained. The in-charge of the dispensary is not trained even to provide first aid. None of them are social workers. Many are women who have lived in the orphanage themselves and have been accommodated as staff after growing up. Some are widows or victims of a bad marriage. Most seem to have been subjected to some or the other form of abuse and exploitation in their life and they do not know better ways of dealing with children.
Unfortunately, fear of reprisal forced most children to be circumspect in their sharing. Children who would speak one day would be silent the next day and avoided the visiting team from HAQ and Delhi Police, and indication of the fact that they had been reprimanded for having opened up. Girls who would come and whisper t when the time came to talk saying that they would be beaten up if they were seen spending time with us.
In short, the six days that HAQ spent inside the orphanage brought to light names of older boys and male staff who were held responsible by some children for sexual abuse which has been shared with the Delhi Police as well as the Government of Delhi.
However, when the Addl. DCP, Central District asked the Secretary of the organisation, who is charge of the orphanage, if he was aware of the abuse going on inside his institution. He denied it, however quickly adding that there was one incidence of sodomy that had come to his notice, where he had called the father of the accused (an older boy in the institution) and asked him to take the child back, but then readmitted the child after two months on the request of the father !
What is more, many of HAQ’s observations find resonance in the report submitted by the members of Child Welfare Committee, Mayur Vihar who also visited the orphanage on behest of the Government of Delhi.
Under the circumstances, the protection of all those children who found the courage to speak up is of paramount importance.
Most children who are in the oprphanage, including those who are no longer there are not 'orphans' in the strict sense of the word. They come from poor families who chose to send their children to a residential facility where they can be kept away from the unsafe environment in the locality where they live and also receive education. Little did they realise that they were compromising their children’s safety. However, this also now means that these children must be kept with their families and ensured the continuation of their education.
Since the interactions with the children had taken place in the presence of the police officials, we had assumed that children who had come forward to speak up would receive immediate protection. Unfortunately, when this did not happen until on 10th February, HAQ sent a written report to the Police Commissioner, with copies marked to the Jt. Commissioner, Northern Range, Jt. Commissioner, Special Police Unit for Women and Children, DCP, Central District and Addl. DCP, Central District requesting immediate action.
Thereupon an FIR was filed against a juvenile, booking him in the case of the deceased child for sexual abuse. This juvenile was named because a boy in the institution had implicated him for sexual abuse. His involvement in the case of the deceased girl was ascertained on the account of two girls from the institution, who identified the boy and got their statements recorded under Section 164 CrPC. Later another FIR was booked against the same boy based on the statement of the smaller boy who had implicated him. The matter is now pending before the Juvenile Justice Board.
On 13 February, Dr. Kiran Walia, Minister of Women and Child Delhi Government, has taken note of the need for protection of the children inside the institution and issued directions to book FIRs against all the staff and others alleged to be abusers and we hope such action will be expedited.
We truly appreciate Dr. Kiran Walia's intervention and her sensitivity in dealing with this situation, realising the need for providing immediate protection and taking charge of the administration of the institution as well as ensuring that the school going children inside do not lose out one full academic year when the exams are around the corner. She has also been sensitive to the fact that closing down an institution which houses so many children in not where the solution lies.
HAQ’s interventions to support the children did not end with the investigative report that it presented to the government. It has been working to support the children, the Delhi government and the police in this case.
Some children have already been withdrawn from the orphanage by their parents on coming to know of the violations inside it. These children meet us with a big smile and hugs and we hope to see them smiling all through their life.
We have sought help from A.V. Baliga Memorial Trust in ensuring school admission for the deceased child's brother, who is deaf and mute, and sister who used to study in class II in the same institution along with two other girls from the neighbourhood, who were pulled out of the institution after the matter came to light. Since the deceased child's mother does not wish to send any of her children to a residential facility any more, we have to ensure that their right to free and compulsory education and inclusive education does not stand compromised.
Dr. Kiran Walia has promised to help them get their Transfer Certificates without delay, to enable them seek admission in other schools. However, since the academic session is coming to an end, most schools will refuse admission at this point of time and some children may inevitably have to lose out on an academic session. As of now their families have come to terms with this, but they look forward to school admission in the next academic session.
In an effort to get greater protection for the children inside the institution and all those children who have spoken up, as also to expedite action against the staff whom the children had named, HAQ has sent a letter petition to the Acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, who has taken cognizance of it.
It is important that we state that a child protection policy is integral to HAQ's functioning and every staff in HAQ is under the obligation to follow the policy while interacting with children. As HAQ works on holding the state accountable it also promotes and stands for NGO accountability. Such measures have helped HAQ steer ahead in its vision, mission, aims and goals.