The call came to Thanal, a child helpline project of the Kerala State Council for Child Welfare (KSCCW). Six children of a family in Thiruvananthapuram have been living in such poor conditions that one of them appears to have eaten mud when it got hungry, the caller said. Thanal passed on the information to the District Child Protection Unit since the Child Welfare Commission was not working on Monday. Members of the DCPU, on visiting the family, found that the caller was indeed correct - the family was living in a really pathetic state. With the father providing no money to buy food, the children had just water to fill their tummies, except when a neighbour took mercy on them. And when that wasn't enough, one of the kids ate a handful of mud.
“Two of us went to investigate and found that the family was living in bad conditions, in a hut made of flex sheets, flooded by flies. But this was the state of most of the houses in that area, a street near Kaithamukku. However, what brought attention to them was the comment that one of the kids had eaten mud when it got hungry. Reports said that it was the eldest child, aged seven. But on talking to the children, we found that it was one of the younger kids – aged one and a half years – that ate mud,” says one of the staff members of the DCPU who visited the family.
The father of the children, an alcoholic, allegedly abused them a lot when he got drunk. He is a daily wage labourer, while the mother does not work.
“Except the youngest – a three month old baby – the father had allegedly been beating up all his children and not taking care of them. It is when the neighbours heard their screams that one of them alerted us. When we went there, all the children had to eat that day was hot water,” says Advocate Deepak, general secretary of KSCCW.
The elder children are aged 7, 5, 4, 3 and 1.5 years respectively and the youngest is three months old. When officials reached the house, they asked the mother if she wanted to place the children under the state's care for now, and she agreed. “Ideally they should be taken to the CWC who would then hear the case and decide what should be done with the children. But since the CWC was not functioning on Monday, we took the four older children with us. The family had been ready to send them with us. But when we were going to take the one and a half year old too, the mother cried. So we left the two younger children with her,” the DCPU member says.
Without the CWC working, the DCPU had to take a call on where to take the four kids. It was decided that the children will be taken to the KSCCW. “Only children up to six years old can stay there. So it should be decided where the eldest child will be taken. The CWC will make a decision today,” the DCPU member adds. The mother and the two younger kids have meanwhile been placed under the care of the Government Mahila Mandiram in Poojappura, that looks after widowed, divorced, deserted and destitute women.
The DCPU found that the Anganwadi worker was taking the three year old to the Anganwadi and dropping the child back too. It has been a failure on the part of the system that the condition of the rest of the children was unreported to various government agencies, despite the Anganwadi worker visiting the house everyday to pick and drop the child.
The children have been taken for a medical examination on Tuesday morning. Once that’s over their statements shall be taken. “Thanal is not just a toll free number, we follow up a case till the problem is solved and the children are secure and well taken care of. Once the medical tests are fine, we will send them to school as soon as possible. The government has asked for a report, that should be send to the Chief Minister and Social Justice Minister KK Shailaja,” Adv Deepak says.
It is in November 2017 that Thanal was launched as a project of the KSCCW. The toll free number to call to report any case of children in distress is 1517.