Are Nirbhaya homes a real refuge for abused minors in Kerala?

Almost 20 minor girls gave birth at Nirbhaya homes in 2015
Are Nirbhaya homes a real refuge for abused minors in Kerala?
Are Nirbhaya homes a real refuge for abused minors in Kerala?
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Divya (name changed) became pregnant when she was just 14 years old after she was sexually abused by a friend of her mother.

In court, however, Divya said that one of her seniors from school was responsible for her pregnancy because her mother allegedly made her change the statement so her friend could escape punishment.

Divya, who was sent to a Nirbhaya shelter home (for abused women and children) in Thiruvananthapuram, was returned to her mother’s care after the delivery of her child in December 2015, when her mother petitioned the child welfare committee (CWC) to release Divya to her care.

“Later, when we enquired we came to know that she was admitted in a mental hospital. No arrest has happened in the case till now,” PE Usha, Project Director of the Kerala Mahila Samakhya Society (KMSS), which supervises and runs the Nirbhaya shelter homes, told The News Minute.

Divya’s plight is not an isolated one, according to Usha. Another 15-year-old rape victim from Ranni, who had been abused by her uncle was allegedly sent back to the same house after her family petitioned the CWC. Later, she was subjected to sexual abuse again.

“There are cases where rape victims were sent back along with the family members of the accused in the case,” Usha further observes.

It is thus that the alarming failure of the Nirbhaya shelter homes to provide meaningful alternatives for rape victims has come to the fore. A significant number of teenage rape victims simply surrender their new born child to the CWC and go back to the same unsafe environment in which they were first abused.

Even two years after the launch of the ‘Nirbhaya Keralam Surakshitha Keralam’ project aimed at combatting sexual violence and trafficking of women and children, the venture is still unable to fulfil one of its foundational aims.

Currently there are eight Nirbhaya homes across the state which have 250 inmates. Among them, were almost 20 minor girls who gave birth at Nirbhaya homes in 2015.

“These homes run short of funds and space. We don’t have enough space to accommodate everyone,” Usha says.

According to the state’s Directorate of Social Justice only the CWC can do something to resolve the issue.

“The CWC conducts the enquiry and they decide with whom the victim should go. We don’t have any role in it. CWC is a quasi-judicial body so we cannot question their decisions,” CK Raghavanunni , Additional Director, Directorate of Social Justice told TNM.

In this situation, no real attempt at rehabilitation occurs, and the Nirbhaya homes only provide a short term stay for victims, with no concrete plans of what will happen to them once that short-term stay is completed.

“These issues are less taken care of. KMSS provides long-term rehabilitation for some girls who stay with us. We teach them to live a normal life after the trauma. But what about others?” Usha asks.

According to Usha, simply housing victims for a short duration in an environment geared for crisis is of no use. “We should have a system where these victims should have a normal life out of these shelter homes. They should not stay in a ‘trauma’ environment always. Once they are out of this trauma they should live a public life. But for that they need help,” she says.

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