The death of a six-year-old boy at the Home For Mentally Deficient Children (HMDC), run by the State Social Justice Department, in Kozhikode on January 25, has exposed security lapses in the system and the carelessness of the authorities. The boy had severe bruises all over his body and a major head injury, which caused his death according to a postmortem report. Initially, the police filed a case of unnatural death and after the autopsy report came out on January 31, Chevayur police have registered case of murder.
There is little clarity on how the child, who was on the Autism spectrum, was injured. Social workers and child psychologists who visited the home following the incident say that this exposes the apathy of the authorities who run the home.
Further, they pointed out that there were several safety and care lapses in the home, which does not ensure a safe space for vulnerable children and young adults.
For instance, Kozhikode Child Welfare Commission Chairperson Advocate Babitha Balraj told TNM that children and young adults, all belonging to different age groups, were made to live in one room. "Children from six to 19 years of age were admitted there and lived in the same room. They cannot be admitted together. Kozhikode CWC had inspected the centre twice and told them to separate the children. We had given written instructions," Advocate Babitha said.
The HMDC has 38 inmates with different learning and psychosocial disabilities, or mental health issues. According to experts, the children should not have been made to live together in the same space without sufficient supervision and safety protocols.
"Age alone is not the issue,â€ť said Dr Devika Raadhakrishnan, a child psychologist, â€śAutism, for instance, cannot be considered a mental illness. It is a developmental disorder. To take care of children with learning disabilities we need a good number of staff in such homes, I doubt whether such centers are well equipped.â€ť
She also added that children should be kept in different sections based on their disability and individual care and treatment should be given.
"Children with autism have the tendency to bang their heads on the floor or wall. That can also cause severe injuries. They should have the privilege of proper monitoring, care and safety," she added.
Shambu Nath, Circle Inspector, Chevayur police station told TNM that the police are investigating what led to the childâ€™s death. â€śThe child may also have suffered injuries in a fight among the roommates,â€ť he said.
The child who lost his life was from Wayanad district and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. His mother had mental health issues and since his father's family could not take care of him, the Wayanad Child Welfare Commission had taken him to HMDC in March 2019.
A former CWC member from Kozhikode said that what happened in HMDC was a crime. "I still remember his face when he came to join last March. He was the youngest, such an adorable kid. This child lost his life due to irresponsible behaviour of authorities," he said.