Child Safety

Sex abuse cases: Children’s shelter homes across India lack funds, strong monitoring, say activists

The central budgetary allocation for child welfare has seen a steady decline since 2014.

After reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse of children in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh’s shelter homes emerged in July and August, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said that it was likely that“many more” such cases are yet to be uncovered. She explained that the government had failed to pay close attention to child shelter homes, beyond giving them funds.

But the government’s neglect of child protection extends even to financial support, say activists. The Budgetary allocation for children has witnessed a steady decline since 2014, according to an analysis of the Union Budget by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability. From 4.2% in 2014-’15, the allocation dipped to 3.3% from 2016 to 2018, and rose marginally to 3.4% in 2018-’19. This includes spending on schemes pertaining to education, health, development and protection of children

The report points out that in India, children constitute 39% of the total population. According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s National Plan of Action for Children, 2016, at least 5% of the Budget should be spent on children.

The analysis also found that though spending on the government-run Integrated Child Protection Scheme, a government-run programme for vulnerable children, has increased steadily over the years, the allocation for a scheme targetted at marginal groups has registered a sharp decline. Funds allotted to the Scheme for Working Children in Need of Care and Protection fell by 99% from Rs 7 crore in 2015-’16, to Rs 0.01 crore in 2018-’19.

Regulatory framework

The Integrated Child Protection Scheme, launched in 2009, works to safeguard economically or socially vulnerable children as well as those in conflict with law.

Its main objectives are to institutionalise essential services, build a database of child protection services, undertake research and documentation, create and promote preventative measures to protect children from situations of vulnerability and raise awareness about child rights and protection.

The scheme is supposed to work in tandem with the Juvenile Justice Act and ensure its effective implementation at the state and district levels by supporting the creation of new institutions for child care and maintaining existing ones.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, covers children in conflict with the law – defined as someone below 18 years who is alleged or found to have committed an offence – as well as children in need of care and protection. The latter category includes children without homes or a means of sustenance, those found begging or working in violation of labour laws, those vulnerable to sexual abuse and trafficking and those whose parents or guardians have been found unfit to ensure their well-being. It also includes children with mental or physical disabilities.

The Act mandates separate kinds of facilities for children in conflict with the law and those in need of care or protection. Under the Act, a “special home” is an institution set up by the state government or a non-governmental organisation to provide rehabilitative services for children in conflict with law. For children in need of care and protection, the law prescribes institutions such as open shelters and foster care homes, run by the state government or by non-governmental organisations.

The Balika Grih, shelter in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, where at least 34 minor girls were allegedly sexually abused, housed lost or destitute girls. The shelter was funded by the state government and run by the NGO Seva Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti. The sexual exploitation at the shelter home came to light after Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences reported it in its audit report, submitted in April.

Findings such as these show the poor implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act, said Deepika Khatri, a child rights activist. “The kinds of children that live in these shelter homes are not always orphaned,” she said. “They could be abandoned under different circumstances or were compelled to leave their homes early on due to different reasons. These homes have a huge mix of traumatised kids. There is a lack of interest and effort to implement the Juvenile Justice Act. Such homes should be blacklisted.”

Need for monitoring

Under the Juvenile Justice Act, such institutions are mandated to provide basic amenities such as food, shelter, clothing and medical attention for children along with education and other requirements.

Under Section 54 of this Act, state governments have to appoint inspection committees to conduct surveys at these centres once every three months, comprising three members including a woman and a medical officer. A report about the inspection should have to be submitted to the District Child Protection Unit or the state government.

But such monitoring rarely takes place, said activists. “There are mostly NGO-run homes [in Bihar]. The government has been contracting out responsibility to NGOs, but they still officially come under the government’s care,” said Atiya Bose of Aangan Trust, an organisation that works in the field of child protection. There is no monitoring or social audit on the ground. This is the travesty.”

Mohammed Tarique, the assistant professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who led the social audit of the shelter homes in Bihar, had told Scroll.in in July that this was the first time the state’s government had commissioned such an audit.

Money misuse

Activists pointed out that the problem is not just in the lack of money, but also misappropriation of funds, often because of a nexus between politicians and those running the shelter homes. A report by The Indian Express claimed that the Muzaffarpur home under probe, run by Brajesh Thakur, the key accused in the case, had received an annual grant of Rs 34 lakh. In all, Thakur ran 11 NGOs, which earned about Rs 2.5 crore, according to the Hindustan Times.

Kishor Palve, who runs a youth empowerment centre in Mumbai, said that funds for shelters are mainly decided based on the number of children in their care. “Each state will have their own schemes under which the state government releases funds for shelters,” he explained. “They also have norms to determine the per child cost. There is an estimation of livelihood of the children there.”

But politicians and shelter owners find a way around these rules, he said. “When I visited some shelter homes in Maharashtra, I found that on paper, there was repetition of names of children who were actually living only in one shelter. There are various forms of corruption being practiced in these places. Most of the people who run government shelters are friends or relatives of the politicians in that area.”

Vidya Reddy of Tulir – Centre for Prevention and Healing for Child Sexual Abuse, said that the income tax department should also be involved in registering and monitoring these homes.

“It should not be just the purview of the [state’s] social welfare department,” he said. “The shelters are often just a front and cover to line pockets. And such things don’t happen in isolation. This is happening in other parts of India as well, not just Bihar or Uttar Pradesh.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.