Shelter Homes for Children: No Refuge from Sexual Assault

Shelter Homes for Children: No Refuge from Sexual Assault

Author: Samiksha Gupta
Founder, Editor and Writer | Leagle Samiksha

Introduction:

‘Shelter Home’ refers to a place for providing protection to a person in distressed circumstances. It is a broad term and shelter homes may be privately owned or be opened by the government under special schemes for housing people temporarily.

 Shelter homes may be categorised on the basis of duration of stay – short-stay homes ranging from providing accommodation from a few days to a few months, and long-stay homes which accommodate people for a few years. They may also be classified based on the inmates – for children, for women, for elderly people, for urban homeless people etc.

Further, sub-categories under each of these exist. For example, shelter homes for children may take in orphans, abandoned or surrendered children, juveniles in conflict with the law, victims of physical abuse, victims of sexual abuse, missing children, children who ran away, children rescued from child labour, children of commercial sex workers, children affected by natural calamities, child victims of war, mentally and physically challenged children, etc.

Shelter Homes as Hub of Criminal Activity:

Of late, shelter homes for children and women have emerged as the hotspot of criminal activities. Lack of humane conditions of residence and frequent physical violence in the name of disciplining the inmates are just the tip of the iceberg. Very often, children go “missing” from shelter homes.

The NCPCR conducted a social audit report wherein more than 2,800 shelter homes were surveyed. An atrociously low 54 homes received positive reviews by the inspection committee.[1]

The shocking Muzaffarpur Shelter Homes case two years ago drew everyone’s attention towards the conditions of shelter homes and rampant sexual abuse of inmates that goes on on a regular basis within these places. A 100-paged report by TISS, Mumbai revealed heart-wrenching scenario. The condition of shelter homes is ‘deplorable’.

Sexual Assault in Shelter Homes:

In Bihar, 34 girls out of 41 were found to have been drugged by the caretakers and raped repeatedly by stranger men who snuck into their rooms at night. Guards of the shelter homes were found to be sexually-abusive and attempted to touch private parts of the girls residing in shelter homes. Some were impregnated as a result of rape and forced to undergo an abortion.[2]  

Boys at other shelter homes were beaten up brutally with sticks and pipes for refusing to work and cook in the houses of superintendents. Female staff members forced boys to write lewd comments on the paper.[3]

According to the latest report by the NCRB, maximum cases of abuse in shelter homes – 288 – have been reported from Uttar Pradesh, followed by Maharashtra (161), Andhra Pradesh (62), Madhya Pradesh (61) and Haryana (49). Overall, the number of sexual assault cases in shelter homes saw an increase of 30% in 2018.[4]

The atrocities committed upon these children are unspeakable, appalling and unpardonable. To imagine that more often than not, these victims have nowhere else to go, no person to report their miseries to and no one to protect them from their abusers, is bone-chilling.

Legal Recourse Available:

The POCSO Act, 2012 comprehensively deals with such situations.

Under Sec 9, sub-clause (d), “whoever being on the management or on the staff of … other place of custody or care and protection established by or under any law for the time being in force commits sexual assault on a child being inmate of such … observation home or other place of custody or care and protection;” is said to commit “Aggravated Sexual Assault”.

Further, Section 9 comes into force when sexual assault is committed “more than once or repeatedly” under sub-clause (l) and “on a child below 12 years” under sub-clause (m).

Since the 2019 Amendment to the POCSO Act, aggravated penetrative sexual assault is now punishable with rigorous imprisonment of at least 20 years, which may extend for lifetime, or death sentence, and fine. 

Conclusion:

The institutionalisation of children is supposed to be seen as the last resort. Children who seek cover in shelter homes have already faced hardships and suffered grave violations to their rights in some form or the other before entering the shelter homes.

Therefore, the hope is that shelter homes provided for shall not be mere roofs over the head but a liveable and dignified place to live. They expect to get a better life and access to adequate protection and necessities for a decent life, which is above and beyond mere animalistic existence.

Flagitious accounts of sexual abuse of children within shelter homes continue to come to light. One cannot imagine the alarming rise in deteriorating conditions at remand houses and shelter homes.

These homes cry for better facilities. In the name of shelter houses, they are grim institutes depicting the sad state of affairs when it comes to the issue of the welfare of children. It is the need of the hour to take corrective measures to solve the appalling state of affairs.


[1] Child rights panel’s report on shelter homes frightening: Supreme Court, Hindustan Times (Aug 28, 2018, 11:28 pm) https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/ncpcr-report-on-shelter-homes-frightening-says-supreme-court/story-OOQvjGAGifa9F2qXYLFL4L.html

[2] Soutik Biswas, The horror story inside an Indian children’s home, BBC News (Aug 11, 2018) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-45124802

[3] Preksha Malu, How did shelter homes in India become criminal hotspots?, Sabrang (Oct 1, 2018) https://sabrangindia.in/article/how-did-shelter-homes-india-become-criminal-hotspots

[4] Neeraj Chauhan, 30% rise in sexual abuse of young women in shelter homes: NCRB annual report,Hindustan Times  (Jan 09, 2020, 10:33 am) https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/30-rise-in-sexual-abuse-of-young-women-in-shelter-homes-ncrb-annual-report/story-OApm3FPeP0ZUsha5IWdKuK.html

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