Society fails to provide for mentally ill children (TOI)

Publication: The Times Of India Delhi; Date: Sep 12, 2010; Section: Deep Focus; Page: 15    

CHILDREN of a lesser God


Our society fails to provide for destitute, mentally ill children even though the law says it is the state’s duty to take care of them


Ambika Pandit | TNN 

    Priya is little more than a month old but it wasn’t a happy birthday for her. She came into the world attended by callousness and cruelty. Mala, her mentally unstable mother lay in labour on the streets of the national capital but no one came forward to help her. Priya was born on the street. Later, the police took mother and baby to a nearby hospital. The hospital reportedly failed to deal with the case sensitively. The mother and child were later found with an NGO. 

    Children like Priya, born to mentally unstable single mothers or themselves mentally ill, are victims of an apathetic system that refuses to recognize their basic rights. The Juvenile Justice Act lays down rules for the protection of newborn babies and children but our apathetic system often fails to respond. 

    Raaj Mangal Prasad is chairman of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), a bench of magistrates looking into such issues. He says that mentally ill babies are very badly off. “Every time a case comes up, we have to refer the child to Delhi’s Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) for treatment. But the institute is not equipped to keep such a child for a long period.” He cites the case of three abandoned children recently admitted to IHBAS. They are now mentally stable and could be discharged, albeit with consistent care. But Prasad says “there are no ‘half-way homes’ or specialized institutions to take care of such children. That’s a major problem that the CWC faces on a regular basis.” 

    The problem doesn’t get better in Mumbai. It may be rather worse. Child rights activists accuse the Maharashtra government of failing to make child protection a reality with Mumbai hospitals refusing to take in abandoned mentally ill children. Santosh Shinde is a member of Child Welfare Committee Mumbai and works with NGO Bal Prafulta. He says, “There is only one state-run home for mentally deficient children in the entire Mumbai. The sad part is that there are no separate sections. So, children who are mentally challenged and those who are unstable have to be kept in the same home.” On average, the Mumbai CWC has to place five mentally unstable children every month. Activists say most cases go unregistered. 

    The lack of specialized homes is acute. Rohit, an abandoned mentally ill five-yearold, was recently accommodated in Nirmal Chhaya, a children’s home in Delhi even though officials were deeply aware it was the wrong place for him. Mamta Sahay, CWC chairperson, is exasperated and expresses it. “It’s not the ideal place for him as he suffers from multiple medical problems.” When Rohit was sent to IHBAS for treatment, he was sent back because it was not equipped to do so. He was taken to Kalawati Saran Hospital, which threw up its hands two days later. Delhi’s health minister Kiran Walia intervened and Lok Narayan Jai Prakash hospital took charge of the boy. But that too didn’t last long because the hospital did not have any way to undertake long-term care of the child. The CWC had to move Rohit once again, this time to Nirmal Chhaya. 

    Disability rights activist Indumati Rao has long battled for decent homes to be set up. She says Karnataka’s government-run homes are no less than “hell”. The state has 32 homes for the mentally challenged but they do not have even the most basic facilities. Rajasthan has just one government-run special home but it can take no more than 100 children. Govind Beniwal of the NGO Alla Ripu laments the state of affairs. “Currently, the home is filled beyond capacity.” 

    Rao, who is chairperson of the Rehabilitation Council of Karnataka, has pleaded with disparate government agencies to ensure that homes for the mentally ill are fit for human beings. But, she says, “There seems to be no will to change the system.” 

    Clearly, the state has few answers — or little help to offer — children like Priya or Rohit. What is to become of them? Just last month, the Delhi government instructed all private and government hospitals, nursing homes and clinics to provide proper and timely treatment to children referred to them by the Child Welfare Committee. That was a step in the right direction. But what next? What happens to them after they are treated and discharged? Will they be like Mala, Priya’s mother?