Overcrowding, poor infrastructure plague state-run children’s homes

Durgesh Nandan Jha,TNN | Jan 30, 2012, 01.51 AM IST

NEW DELHI: At 7am when other children are already up and preparing to begin their day, Sulekha lies down to sleep. She was up all night because there wasn't any vacant bed in the room and sleeping outside in this biting cold was out of the question.

The 14-year-old mentally challenged girl is not the only one napping in shifts. Overcrowding and lack of infrastructure in the Delhi government-run childcare institutions meant for special children and destitute – particularly girls – is forcing hundreds like Sulekha to live in such deplorable conditions.

Information obtained through an RTI query, a copy of which is with TOI, has revealed that 666 people are living in the three homes for mentally-challenged that have space for only 375. Sukhanchal School and Home for Mentally-Challenged Girls, Asha Kiran complex, has 174 inmates while it has space for just 75.

The five homes for girls in the city have the capacity to house 339 kids, but the current number of occupants is 436. At least two homes are facing severe crisis in terms of infrastructure and trained manpower and are now not admitting any more children.

The children admitted to these institutions are either lost or have been abandoned. They are picked up from the streets or found deserted in hospitals and various religious and public places. A senior health department official said when taken in, most of these children have various infections and show signs of having been subjected to violence and maltreatment. "These children have limited intelligence and their nervous system is also weak. As a result of which, it is hard for them to express their discomfort or illness. Often, by the time the symptoms become visible, much damage has already been done," he said.

Pratidhi NGO, which filed the RTI, said overcrowding at these homes is a major concern. "Such children need help to eat, walk, play and even to go to the washroom. Due to overcrowding, it becomes difficult to attend to each and every child and the children run the risk of catching infection which can prove fatal. More than 100 deaths have been reported at the childcare homes run by the state in the last five years," said the NGO spokesperson.

Delhi Women and Child Development Minister Kiran Walia said they are planning to shift Asha Kiran Complex – which houses the mentally-challenged – to Narela soon. "The new complex will be big enough to accommodate at least 1,000 inmates and it will have better infrastructure. Expansion plans for other children' homes for girls are under way and we are closely monitoring the infrastructure requirements," said Walia.

Rights activists, however, point out that the shifting of Asha Kiran Complex has been in the works since 2006, and the delay is causing irreparable harm to the health of these children.