Childcare, a thriving business

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Recent reports of deaths, neglect, malnourishment, starvation, exploitation, sexual assault, sodomy, beatings and even murder in childcare homes or institutions have shocked the nation. It seems to be the norm rather than isolated incidents,although these institutions are established to provide care, treatment and protection to children. Disabled children especially are perfect targets for the ‘hunterwala uncles, papas and mamas’. They are abused and exploited by the same people who they trust and who are supposed to take care of them. Their vulnerabilities are taken advantage of by those in power and authority.
Childcare has become a business. There are many institutions which have a valid registration but no childcare plan, no counsellors, no therapists, no special educators, no rehabilitation and reintegration process, and no expertise on child rights. How they got these registrations or licences is the moot question. There are many institutions running without even valid registrations. All these institutions violate constitutional provisions, national laws and international conventions on rights of the child. The juvenile justice system has completely failed the children. Child welfare committees, inspection committees, government departments, law enforcers and implementers, the NGOs … all seemed to be guilty of dereliction of duty. The failure to hold perpetrators accountable only ensures that violence continues. They go smiling when arrested as they are ‘confident’ that they will escape the law as those in a position to act may many times be complicit in the abuse.
It is a well-established universal principle that institutionalization should be the last resort and only in the best interest of the child. But in practice unfortunately, it is not so as institutionalization seems to be the only option. Studies and visits to institutions over a period of time have shown that only a minority of children in institutions are orphans, with many of them having being displaced and separated from a living parent or relative whose whereabouts may be unknown, while some of them are abandoned due to disability or illness. An area of concern is that the vast category of children in institutions, who are there only for ‘education and better life’, have parent(s) or relatives and they go home in vacations or during festivals. They take ‘admission in institutions’ for the new academic year like any other child being admitted in school. It is this disturbing trend that has led to overcrowding and resulting in misuse of the scarce resources of the State. There does not seem to be any attempt at rehabilitation, social reintegration nor deinstitutionalisation, in majority of the homes. Once in institutions they are doomed to remain there with no proper education, training or skill. Why are we using our scarce resources to take children out of their families and placing them in institutions? Why should our children, including those with disabilities, be in institutions and get exploited? They need care and protection, treatment and not abuse, detention and exploitation. The State must invest in keeping children in their own families or communities. There need to be investment in medical services, non-institutional services, and community-support centres where of course staff and resources are employed but it benefits all children and families in that community. It is now proved that institutional care is more expensive than providing support to vulnerable families. It’s time to move away from institutionalisation and towards empowerment, deinstitutionalization, social integration and independent living. Closed institutions should be open to educators, social workers, teachers and civil society.

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