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Nowhere to Go

The Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ) provides representation to survivors of sexual assault throughout criminal proceedings. In my work for CSJ, I come across many cases that expose the injustice of the system and show that sexual assault survivors often have nowhere safe to go. One of such cases is that of Anushka*.

Anushka was ten years old when her abuse began. Her father would regularly assault her while her mother, Shikha**, slept less than a few feet away from them. This abuse continued for two years until Anushka confided in a social worker at an NGO. Authorities were contacted. The father was taken away to jail. A case was filed against the father. Just when Anushka thought her life was about to get better, her mother started abusing her. Shikha regularly began to abandon Anushka and would return only late at night. Meanwhile, the household had no food, as the primary source of income, the abusive father, was now in jail. Shikha refused to regularly attend her job and began pressuring Anushka daily to take back the case. Additionally, Anushka kept getting pressured through severe physical abuse from Shikha, her own brothers, and her family friends to retract the case.

Though Anushka is strong and refuses to retract her statement, she is unable to continue living in her current situation. It seems that in this situation, the best thing for Anushka would be for her to go to a shelter, but is she really better off in a shelter than she is in her current home?

Shelters are the primary option for children who are orphans, abandoned, or victims of sexual assault, as in the case of Anushka. The Juvenile Justice Act (“JJ Act”), established in 2000, mandates the establishment of shelters for minors in such situations.[1] Without much oversight, shelters can be prone to ill-treatment, severe mismanagement, and neglect becoming emblematic of abuse.[2] In 2012, a series of scandals erupted from orphanages and shelters that brought forth the issues of severe mismanagement, abuse, exploitation of children, and violence present in shelters. [3]  In one shelter, it was discovered that children were beaten regularly by the wardens, whereas, another shelter was described to be running a “reign of terror.” [4] Though these incidents were reported in 2012, abuse is still being reported in shelter homes. [5] For example, in May 2017, around thirty girls, several former victims of rape, reported being “molested by the staff and forcefully injected with a hormone that had affected their growth and menstruation cycles” in a shelter in Delhi.[6]

The JJ Act mandates regular strict oversight measures of shelters by government officials by requiring procedures such as quarterly inspections by Child Welfare committee members and monthly meetings of management meetings.[7] Presently, there are over 638 shelters registered under the JJ Act housing more than 29,000 people. [8] But, many shelters have never been registered under the JJ Act. [9] It is virtually impossible to quantify the number of institutions that avail themselves as shelters as many private shelters run without any formal classification.[10]

A private shelter is able to run even without any classification as government funding is not restricted to only registered organizations; thus, even if a shelter never registers with the government under the JJ Act, it can still get receive government aid. [11] As a shelter does not need to register to receive government funding to run, it has no incentive to register.[12]  This gap in the law allows private shelters to evade requirements to even maintain a minimum standard of care as well as any government oversight and monitoring of its management.[13]  This unfettered administration of shelters breeds the ground for abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the society’s most vulnerable population, children. For example, in one shelter, Apna Ghar, meaning our house, “more than 100 female residents reported being raped by caretakers and outsiders for more than a year.”[14] In Apna Ghar, children were filmed for pornographic purposes, and many were also sold to outsiders.[15]

Unchecked administration compounded with severely undertrained staff, “many [staff members] hadn’t finished high school,” further aggravates the abuse of children. [16]

Complaints of shelter homes are also rare. Abuse in shelter homes is often under-reported as often the shelter is generally the child’s only support making them severely fearful and reluctant of reporting the abuse. [17] Even if a complaint is lodged, “chances are that person with whom the victim shares it, is never going to tell the top management. And even if he or she does, the management will likely sit on the complaint. No one will approach the police to lodge a complaint of sexual abuse in an institute that he or she is running.”[18, 19] Even if a complaint is launched against an institution, instead of having any action taken against them, the abused child is generally transferred or ignored. [20] A major obstacle to any reforms are apathetic government employers who refuse to take any actions against shelters. [21] The endemic nature of the abuse in child shelters is indicative of systematic failure. Over the last four years, at least thirty-six cases of sexual abuse has been reported in shelters across thirteen Indian states.[22] Before placing a child in any shelters, substantive research must take place of the shelter and whether it has registered with the JJ Act. Major reforms of the system must take place before shelters are considered to be a viable alternative for individuals like Anushka.


Notes:

*pseudonym used to protect the identity of the child

**pseudonym used to protect the identity of the client

[1] Homes of Horror: When Juvenile Shelters Become Exploitation Centres, Danish Raza, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html ; Culture of Abuse, Ammu Kannampilly, The National, available at http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/culture-of-abuse-at-indias-childrens-care-homes

[2] Id; Culture of Abuse, Ammu Kannampilly, The National, available at http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/culture-of-abuse-at-indias-childrens-care-homes; Homes of horror: When juvenile shelters become exploitation centres, Danish Raza, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html

[3] Cultures oe of Abuse, Ammu Kannampilly, The National, available at http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/culture-of-abuse-at-indias-childrens-care-homes; Homes of horror: When juvenile shelters become exploitation centres, Danish Raza, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html

[4] Culture of Abuse, Ammu Kannampilly, The National, available at http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/culture-of-abuse-at-indias-childrens-care-homes; Homes of horror: When juvenile shelters become exploitation centres, Danish Raza, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html

[5] http://www.mirrornow.in/property/videos/urban-issues/32-girls-alleged-sexual-abuse-in-delhi%E2%80%99s-shelter-home/43759;

[6] 32 girls alleged sexual abuse in Delhi’s shelter home, Mirror now, available at   http://www.mirrornow.in/property/videos/urban-issues/32-girls-alleged-sexual-abuse-in-delhi%E2%80%99s-shelter-home/43759;

[7] A crying shame: sexual abuse in children’s shelters, Danish, First Post, available at http://www.firstpost.com/india/a-crying-shame-sexual-abuse-in-children-shelters-348852.html

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Homes of horror: When juvenile shelters become exploitation centres, Danish Raza, The Hindustan Times, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html

[14] Homes of horror: When juvenile shelters become exploitation centres, Danish Raza, The Hindustan Times, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html

[15] Homes of horror: When juvenile shelters become exploitation centres, Danish Raza, The Hindustan Times, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html

[16] Culture of Abuse, Ammu Kannampilly, The National, available at http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/culture-of-abuse-at-indias-childrens-care-homes

[17] Id.

[18] Homes of horror: When juvenile shelters become exploitation centres, Danish Raza, The Hindustan Times, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html

[19] Id.

[20] Culture of Abuse, Ammu Kannampilly, The National, available at http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/culture-of-abuse-at-indias-childrens-care-homes

[21] Id.

[22] Homes of horror: When juvenile shelters become exploitation centres, Danish Raza, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/homes-of-horror-when-juvenile-shelters-become-exploitation-centres/story-eA26mA20UErk85YaPJEtqO.html

 

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