Thursday, August 16, 2018
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When protectors turn predators

As reports of sexual abuse at shelter homes emanate from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, these chilling tales reveal sufferings of the hapless inmates12 Aug 2018 | 12:40 AM[ + read story ]

Aditi Tandon in New Delhi

Six years ago, three minor girls escaped from a children’s home in Haryana’s Rohtak and landed in Delhi to tell their tale of horror. All three had been raped repeatedly at Apna Ghar, a shelter home run by NGO Bharat Vikas Sangh, which had been in operation since 1994. A CBI probe into the case revealed dark secrets of the home run by Jaswanti, winner of Haryana government’s Nari Shakti Samman for social service! Inside Apna Ghar, Jaswanti made minors sleep naked at night, forced them into lesbian acts, aided her male relatives to rape the children, administered pills to girls to abort unwanted pregnancies and sold off babies born to those assaulted. She even took girls to Delhi for prostitution and sent them to weddings for a range of ‘services’.

Out of 145 inmates, 51 were found assaulted at Apna Ghar, which had managed clean chits in inspections by Rohtak’s Child Development Officer Angrez Kaur for years. Angrez Kaur became one of the accused in this case but walked free for want of proof. After she retired from government service, she had sought employment with Jaswanti’s Apna Ghar, where she would also allegedly beat up inmates, along with the other caretakers.

This April when the law finally caught up with Jaswanti, her son-in-law Jai Bhagwan and driver Satish (all sentenced for life), CBI special judge Jagdeep Singh hearing the case noted, “The convicts who were entrusted with protection of children have not only crossed limits of breach of faith, but also turned welfare organisations into those violating the chastity of destitute inmates. Protectors have become predators.”

Six years on, the locations of crime against children has changed but the nature of crime has not. The Panchkula CBI court’s words ring true even now as stories of child sexual abuse emanate from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. 

Be it Jaswanti’s Apna Ghar in Rohtak, Brajesh Thakur’s Sewa Sankalp aur Vikas Samiti in Muzaffarpur, Girija Tripathi’s Ma Vidhyavasini Samaj Sewa Sansthan in Deoria or Kanaklata’s shelter home in Gorakhpur, all these houses of horror have one thing in common. They thrived under the state government’s nose and often with connivance of government functionaries who were mandated by the law to check abuse.

“In the Apna Ghar case, the Rohtak child development officer Angrez Kaur tasked under the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act 2015 with inspecting violations kept giving a report that Jaswanti was doing a great job. When we reached the shelter home on the night of May 9, 2012, after recording the statements of three minors, who had escaped and fled to Delhi, we found a sub-inspector stationed there. Jaswanti flaunted her connections, but I stood my ground. I told her that  even the Prime Minister couldn’t stop me from doing my duty. Abuse happens because government functionaries responsible for monitoring childcare institutions don’t do their job,” says Vinod Tikoo, former member, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which filed the complaint in the Apna Ghar case. The FIR was lodged at the Civil Lines police station, Rohtak, on May 10, 2012, but the case was subsequently transferred to the CBI. The court judgment came this April 27. But no lessons seem to have been learnt. Political patronage continues to embolden the child predators.

This week when Bihar’s social welfare minister Manju Verma resigned after evidence that her husband was in touch with Brajesh Thakur, who has been accused of raping 34 of the 42 child inmates in Muzaffarpur, anguish gripped everyone.

In Deoria too, the shelter home owner is learnt to have “connections” while her daughter Kanaklata, running another home in Gorakhpur, earlier served as district probationary officer under the state’s Integrated Child Development Scheme. 

“Such crimes can only be committed when there is complicity with powers that be. I have seen this in all the cases I have come across,” says RN Mahlawat, advocate involved in getting justice for the victims of two sensational cases involving child abuse in Haryana.

The first case of April 2012 — State versus Superna Sethi — saw the caretaker and driver of Superna ka Angan, a children’s home in Gurugram, being sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of 10 and seven years for rapes of girl inmates. Shelter’s owner Superna Sethi was acquitted and NCPCR, which probed the matter initially and pressed for the FIR, did not appeal against the acquittal by the Additional Sessions Court in Gurugram. Mahlawat says there was tremendous pressure from every quarter to go soft on the matter. “I kept pleading with the NCPCR and the state commission of Haryana to appeal against Sethi’s acquittal but to no avail,” he says.

Another horrendous January 2012 case involved rapes of 11 minors by Ankur Gupta, an HIV positive owner of Drone Foundation, a children’s home in Gurugram. Gupta, who was sentenced for life and ordered to pay Rs 3.5 lakh compensation, had ended up infecting his victims.

NCPCR teams that raided childcare institutions in Rohtak, Gurugram, Yamunanagar, Faridabad and Ambala after the Apna Ghar shocker found inspection mechanisms missing everywhere.

“I was part of many rescue operations and found children in a physical and emotional mess. Not only were infrastructure norms under the JJ Act being flouted by homes in Haryana, children were being treated as commodities. They are still treated the same way,” says Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, an anti-trafficking organisation which works with several institutions on rescue operations.

The law is clearly not being followed. Under the new JJ Act 2015, registration of all childcare institutions, whether NGO or government-run, is mandatory and non-compliance attracts imprisonment up to one year or fine of not less than Rs 1 lakh. Section 54 (1) of the Act requires state governments to constitute inspection committees for quarterly review and reporting of all childcare homes. District child protection units are mandated to monitor these homes and check whether inmates are receiving care, treatment and education as is needed under the law.

“Nothing seems to be happening on the ground,” acknowledges Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal, who has been actively attempting to make a difference.

On August 21, 2015, Maliwal had spent a night at Delhi’s Nari Niketan, also called Nirmal Chhaya and its short stay home. While Nari Niketan houses women rescued under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, the stay home is meant for women in need of urgent help after being brought in by the police.

“The attitude of the superintendent and social welfare officers towards women inmates at Nari Niketan was pathetic. Even the victims of extreme violence, trafficking and incest called the homes living hells and said they would rather go back to the lives of abuse than live in these homes,” says Maliwal, who recommended to the Delhi Government immediate transfer of Nari Niketan officers for dereliction of duty.

But such cases of active intervention are few and far between.

Shelter homes and child care organisations across India have acquired reputations for opaqueness rather than transparency. Records of Rohtak’s Apna Ghar case show it was frequented by the then DC, judicial officers and respectable people of the state but no one noticed anything amiss.

Every instance of child abuse in homes has, of late, been reported by children who escaped captivity. 

In Deoria too, a 10-year-old girl approached the police to speak of “red, white and black cars coming to pick up girls from shelter homes and the girls returning the next morning with pain in their stomachs.” In the Superna ka angan case, a minor girl reported abuse to her teacher at school.

The prime witness in the Bihar minor rape case has gone missing from a shelter home where she was shifted after blowing the lid off the heinous crimes of Brajesh Thakur.

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi acknowledges the rot and says more cases of abuse will surface now with the Centre urging states to come clean on the JJ Act and its implementation. States are yet to comply with the mandatory registration of children’s homes clause under the law. The deadline for registration of all homes was December 31, 2017.

“Under the JJ Act, all homes had to be registered within six months of the commencement of the law. We have relentlessly pursued registration of childcare institutions with states by December 31, 2017. A national consultation was held with states on January 11 this year to take stock of registrations. As an outcome, 7,109 institutions have so far been registered and another 401 are reportedly under process,” Maneka Gandhi told Parliament this week.

But the data about child protection is more shocking than reassuring. The NCPCR, mandated under the central law, along with state commissions to protect children, has between 2014 and 2018 registered only 43 complaints of child abuse and closed 38. Nothing is known of outcomes and whether owners of institutions in these cases were punished. “The laws need to be implemented. Child protection mechanisms of state governments have to be activated. The message that child protection is non-negotiable has to come from the top. That is the only way to save children,” says Jitender Kumar, senior public prosecutor for the CBI in the Apna Ghar case. 

Kumar remembers the sleepless nights he had getting testimonials of minor victims of sex crimes. “It was heart wrenching. Among the victims were deaf and mute girls,” he says.

In the wake of Muzaffarpur and Deoria cases, the Centre has now asked all states and UTs to inspect childcare institutions in their jurisdiction and send reports to the Women and Child Development Ministry by September 15. But will the states oblige? That is the million dollar question considering UP and Bihar have consistently refused social audit of homes in their areas. It was only earlier this year that the Bihar Government engaged the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, for an audit of children’s homes in the state. The team revealed the shocking crimes in a Muzaffarpur shelter home and flagged “grave violations” in 15 others.

We have yet heard only of one!


Shockers

MAY 18, 2009

The Ashreya authorities found that a mentally challenged girl from Nari Niketan was eight to 10 weeks pregnant after she had been repeatedly raped.

MAY 11, 2012

Six girls and two boys go missing from Apna Ghar shelter home in Rohtak.  

APRIL 21, 2014

Supervisor of Bal Niketan in Chandigarh booked on charge of sexually harassing girl inmates.

JULY 6, 2018

An employee of Missionaries of Charity in Ranchi held  for “selling baby.” 

JULY 23, 2018

42 girls ‘raped’ in Bihar shelter home. The police dig out a buried body at Muzaffarpur.

August 6, 2018

24 minor girls rescued from a shelter home in Deoria, UP.

August 9, 2018

26 go missing from Pratapgarh shelter home in Uttar Pradesh. 


Major cases 

  • Apna Ghar, Rohtak: Three minors escape to Delhi, contact Childline no 1098, get help from the NCPCR which raids the home. FIR lodged on May 10, 2012. Convictions of accused owner, her male relatives on April 27, 2018.
  • Drone Foundation Gurgaon: The NCPCR raids the shelter home in January 2012. Director Ankit Gupta, who is HIV positive, had raped girls and infected a few. Gupta has been sentenced for life and fined Rs 3.5 lakh.
  • Suparna Ka angan: An NCPCR raid on May 4, 2012, found that minors had been raped by caretaker, cook. Both sentenced. Owner acquitted. 
  • Muzaffarpur: Sewa Sankalp aur Vikas Samiti: 34 minors raped. FIR on May 31, CBI takes over case involving local strongman Brajesh Thakur, main accused.
  • Deoria: Maa Vibdhyavasini: Several girl inmates raped. FIR lodged, local officials suspended. High level state probe on.

Fact check

43 Number of cases of child abuse registered by the NCPCR in the past four years 

7,109Total childcare institutions registrations reported by states to Centre under the JJ Act as of January 2018

38,947 Number of women raped in India in 2016, one rape every 13.5 minutes

1-year Imprisonment for running a chil   dren’s home without registration or fine not less than Rs 1 lakh December 31, 2017

Deadline for mandatory registration of all childcare homes in India under the JJ Care and Protection Act (Section 41) 2015

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