Last year, a series of cases of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, psychological) of girls within shelter homes came out. It started with the Muzaffarpur case and then was followed by Deoria, Bhopal, Delhi and more. Breakthrough works with adolescents on the issue of violence against women and girls. Very often, the home is a space of violence and with this reality, shelter homes are supposed to be the safer alternative available to these adolescents. However, the recent cases have proved this assumption wrong.
Breakthrough works directly in 5 states (Delhi, UP, Haryana, Bihar and Jharkhand) across various communities. We do not work with shelter homes directly. Thus, to build our own understanding of the functioning of a shelter home, we collaborated with Trust Law (Thomson Reuters Foundation) and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co and worked on creating a basic status document. The report covers the functional status of children shelter homes in Delhi, Bihar, UP and Jharkhand in terms of policy, functionality and mechanisms.
Based on this research, we have come up with suggestions for how these issues within shelter homes can be addressed:
- Child Friendly Atmosphere & Space:
Shelter homes must keep a child centered design in mind during both planning and execution. This includes other important factors such as first aid, general cleanliness and hygiene, nutritious food etc.
- Safety & Security:
The shelter home must keep security concerns in mind without violating the children’s right to privacy. For example: CCTV cameras in common areas, entrances and exits.
- Dealing with grievances:
This includes a child-friendly complain mechanism which is prompt and gives the child the required support (for eg: in cases of abuse, arranging to move the child to a different home away from the abuser)
It also involves child rights specialists in the process (as well as the running of the home in general) to make sure the child’s rights are not violated at any juncture.
- Functional Inspection Committee:
Under the Juvenile Justice Act, the State government must designate an inspection committee for the state and district, that carries out random inspections and recommends improvements.
The State governments are also to conduct detailed investigation in cases where provisional registration has been granted to shelter homes. This is initially for 1 month to 6 month period of time, during which the government will inspect if the institution is fulfilling the criteria or not. If it is, then the the certificate will be issued for 5 years and renew after another 5 years. Otherwise, no certificate will be issued.
- Accountability of management:
A Management Committee needs to be created, which needs to meet every month to review and ensure that every child/juvenile within the care of the shelter home is properly cared for.
They also need to set a code of conduct regarding how staff and visitors interact with the children and also ensure that the backgrounds of the staff hired are fully vetted.
There should be openness and transparency in all processes involved, including child care plans as well as financial expenditure.