Kerala govt’s decision to house minor sexual assault survivors in home questioned

However, the government has clarified that the aim is the ‘scientific’ rehabilitation of the survivors.
A child
A child
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The Kerala government recently had decided to house sexual assault survivors up to 18 years of age, who are currently accommodated at various district level Nirbhaya homes, in a single new facility built in Thrissur district. Called the Model Women and Children’s home, this establishment in Thrissur will house around 200 survivors from across the state, compared to Nirbhaya homes, that on an average house 25.

While Minister KK Shailaja, who also holds the Social Justice Department portfolio, has clarified that the Thrissur home is for ‘scientific’ rehabilitation of survivors, concerns have been raised on various grounds, including privacy of the minor survivors as well as the logistics and impact of relocating them.

The present state of rehabilitation homes

Nirbhaya homes are run by the Social Justice Department. The homes in all districts, barring four, are managed by the Mahila Samakhya Society. On November 11, the same organisation was entrusted by the government to run the Thrissur Model Home as well. Meanwhile, the homes at Kollam, Kozhikode, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts are run by non-profit organisations. At present the homes in total have 350 residents.

The United Democratic Front government had set up the Nirbhaya homes in 2012 in line with the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act. This was a first in the country for sexual assault survivors. The incumbent Left government renamed Nirbhaya homes as Women and Childcare (W and C) homes in 2018 with “aim to attempt to end the social stigma over the name.”

As per the government order now, the homes at Alappuzha, Kottayam, Palakkad, Malappuram and Kannur districts will be shut down along one of the two homes at Thiruvananthapuram. The other home in Thiruvananthapuram and those at Kollam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Idukki, Wayanad, and Kasaragod will be transformed as entry homes, that will be used for the initial admission of survivors before they are sent to the Thrissur home.

While the main Thrissur home is set to have a capacity of 200 people, the remaining 150 out of the 350 residents of Nirbhaya homes will live in another home in Thrissur called Thejomaya, under the same aegis.

Concerns about the new home

One of the concerns is about protecting the identities of the sexual assault survivors, as is also mandated under the law. “How do we protect the privacy of children in a home that has to accommodate more than a hundred of them?” a source associated with the running of the homes questioned.

Another concern is about the residents of the home not getting enough attention due the number of inmates the single Thrissur facility. “In many of the cases, the survivors have been subject to the crime at homes. Hence the pressure of changing statements happens if they have to stay at home. At district homes, the individual attention ensures that they don’t have fear, and don’t change statements about the crime as there isn’t pressure. The privacy of the residents is also protected at the district level homes,” the source added.

PE Usha, former state director of the Mahila Samakhya Society told TNM that housing the survivors away from their home districts would make the children who are surviving one trauma even more insecure. “The trauma is beyond words. I know some children scrub their bodies till they bleed to wash away the feeling of being assaulted. Children will have a sense of belonging if they are housed in a home in the proximity of their houses.”

“In the cases in which fathers are the accused, mothers and grandmothers visit the children. The survivors are mostly from poor families, so, traveling [to visit family] is often not affordable. Majority of them are from Other Backward (OBC) and Scheduled Caste (SC) communities, which again are not financially well off. Also, the women (the mothers or grandmothers) are not used to traveling alone if they want to come visit. Shifting all children to a faraway place would mean losing their opportunity to meet family members,” she added.

‘Scientific’ rehabilitation?

However, KK Shailaja, while reacting to media reports regarding the homes shutting down, said that a ‘scientific’ rehabilitation is the aim of shifting the survivors to the Thrissur home. However, the government has not clarified what this rehabilitation would entail differently.

“The district homes are run at rented buildings. There were attempts to harm the children or to influence their statement in favour of the accused by luring them as the homes are functioning in a densely populated area. Also, survivors of different children were living in the same rooms in the district homes, though their requirements are different,” she said.

The minister also said that the home at Thrissur, built spending Rs 5 crore, has been made in consultation with experts. “Children of different age groups will be housed separately at the Thrissur home. It has been built to give them better care with the service of doctors and psychiatrists. It will function with a homely environment that will cater to the mental and physical development of the children,” the minister said.  

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