September 3, 2018 / 9:06 AM / 3 months ago

India's Bihar state takes over children's shelters after finding abuse

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Government authorities will take over all shelters in India’s northern state of Bihar after an audit found that children were being verbally, physically and sexually abused in homes run by charities, an official said.

The probe, which Bihar state commissioned earlier this year to examine how government funds were being used, found 15 charity-run homes where children were abused and deprived of food, clothing and medicine.

Victims also included women rescued from bonded labor or sexual slavery, and toddlers awaiting adoption, according to the audit, which was posted to a state government website.

“The protectors had turned perpetrators in these shelters,” said Raj Kumar, director of social welfare with the Bihar state government.

“Over the next two to three months, we will be taking over all shelters in the state,” he said by phone.

Campaigners applauded the state government’s reaction to the audit.

“Bihar not only initiated the audit but also acted on it,” said Mohammad Tariq, who led the audit and is director of Koshish, a charity affliated with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a Mumbai-based university.

“Governments rarely act on such reports, but state officials lodged police complaints against shelters,” he said.

Recent revelations of abuse at children’s shelters have sparked a nationwide public outcry, and pushed the central government to look into how widespread the problem is.

Police in the city of Deoria, in Uttar Pradesh state, said in early August that they had rescued 20 girls and three boys from a home where they were sold for sex.

That raid came just weeks after police rescued 29 girls from a shelter in Bihar and arrested 10 people who are under investigation for crimes including rape.

Stuti Kacker, head of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that an audit of about 9,000 shelters across India is underway, with one-third of them surveyed so far.

Only a small number of shelters housing 230,000 children are run satisfactorily, according to an interim report submitted by the NCPCR to the Supreme Court last week.

About 1,300 shelters are unregistered, according to the NCPCR, which means they operate illegally and with little or no oversight.

In Bihar, the team that conducted the audit is now drawing up a rehabilitation plan for children rescued from abusive shelters.

“The government is the local guardian of these children. We have set an example by doing a social audit. We are trying to improve,” Kumar said.

(This version of the story corrects title of head of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and attribution of final quote.)

Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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