Unregistered child care homes under govt scanner

Unregistered child care homes have come under the state government’s scanner after trafficking of 37 children, including 36 from the state, came to light in two Christian institutions in Tamil Nadu recently. One of the trafficked children was found to be from Jharkhand.

The women and child development department has asked the child welfare committees (CWCs) in various districts to monitor the unregistered institutions, while the government is yet to ascertain the reason behind the illegal ferrying of children to the churches in the southern state.

Director social welfare (Odisha) Sujata R Karthikeyan said an unregistered institution doesn’t mean a bad one. “These are of three categories. Certain institutions don’t go for registration because they don’t need government funding. The second category includes those who don’t know the procedure. The third include the dubious ones,” she said.

Government sources said there were at least 160 unregistered child care organizations in 15 districts of Odisha. These include 16 in Gajapati from where the maximum number of children were illegally sent to Tamil Nadu. The other districts with unregistered child care organizations include Balasore, Bhadrak, Bargarh, Balangir, Boudh, Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Gajapati, Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur, Kandhamal, Puri, Sambalpur, Sonepur and Sundargarh. CWCs in these districts have been asked to strictly monitor the activities of the institutions and identify the dubious ones. The government is in the process of mapping similar institutions in other districts.

Apart from the unregistered ones, there are 132 registered child care organizations, including 46 children homes and other 85 child care organizations, receiving government assistance.

Due to the presence of a large number of unauthorized homes in tribal-dominated areas, officials suspect these institutions may be trafficking children by convincing their gullible parents of providing the children a better life. Parents of the rescued children from Gajapati district allegedly received Rs 5,000 from the middlemen who facilitated their transfer. It, however, could not be independently verified as government authorities neither confirmed nor denied the allegation.

The first group of 18 of the 37 rescued children boarded a train from Chennai to Odisha on Thursday. “They took the Chendur Express train to Chennai on Wednesday. From there, they took another train to Odisha on Thursday. Two of our officials and two from Odisha are accompanying them,” said Kanyakumari district social welfare officer Devikumari.

Odisha director social welfare Karthikeyan, however, declined to share details about their journey citing the Juvenile Justice Act prevents creating a media frenzy around child victims. The rest of the 18 Odia children will come a day later.

Child rights activists pointed out that the exposed trafficking incident may be the tip of the iceberg as nobody knows the activities of the unregistered homes. “The scale of trafficking through different syndicates may be still higher as Odisha is emerging as a source for trafficking women and children,” said Ranjan Mohanty, convenor of Odisha alliance on convention on rights of the child, a voluntary organization.

Mohanty, who also represents Odisha in the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said without a high-level inquiry nothing can be said about the scale, purpose and route of trafficking of women and children.

The US Department of State, on its website, has recently mentioned that women from Odisha along with north eastern states in India were subjected to servile marriages in states such as Haryana and Punjab. The same report described India as a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex-trafficking.

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