It's not easy to spot an orphanage when they operate without a signboard far way from government scrutiny, officials say many of the children at the orphanages are not even orphans.

The officials with the WCWD in Telangana were unaware that a convicted sexual assault offender now runs a residential school for boysJ Madhava Rao poses before his previously shut orphanage, now run as a residential school.
Delve Child Rights Wednesday, September 23, 2020 - 14:12

In 2018, Jadi Madava Rao was convicted of sexual assault in Hyderabad. He had molested a 16-year-old girl at the Aasarana Society, an orphanage run by him. Soon after he was accused of the crime in 2017, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), under the Women and Child Welfare Department (WCWD), cancelled the registration status of the orphanage, shut it down and shifted the girls out.

But cut to September 2020, and Rao is the Founder-President- of a residential welfare school — the Amithabha Aadarana Vidyalaya — which provides free education to children up to class 8. How is a man convicted of sexually assaulting a minor, less than three years ago, running a residential school where young students study and board? Well, Rao, like some others, found a bureaucratic loophole.

In 2018 — the year of his conviction — Madava Rao managed to get a permit from the Education Department to run his orphanage as a residential school.

“There are about 100 boys at our hostel,” Rao tells TNM who is out on bail and has challenged the lower court order in the Telangana High Court. “Not all the boys are orphans, some are children of single parents or have both their parents, but are too poor to provide them with an education. Most of the boys at my hostel are from tribal areas and districts who lack basic access to free education and food,” he adds.

When asked about how he got permission from the Education Department, Rao replied, “Oh! I had to pay a bribe of Rs 6 lakhs to the mandal level officials with the Education Department.” (TNM has recorded this conversation).

At the LB Nagar police station in Hyderabad where the The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences, or POCSO case against Madava Rao is registered, records show he was convicted in November 2018. The case is closed as far as the police are concerned. The officials with the WCWD were, however, unaware that a convicted sexual assault offender now runs a residential school for boys. And this is not a rare case, a look into how CCIs function in the state show that authorities often overlook lapses.

Under the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015, the CWC is tasked with the oversight of Children in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP) and Children in Conflict with Law (CCL). Under the Act, there are 14 categories that children must fit into to be classified as CNCP. These are children who are rescued from child labour, children of parents who are unable to provide care or children affected by civil unrest, as defined by the Act. These children are to be housed at Child Care Institutions (CCIs), an umbrella term for institutions that shelter children, a sector largely dominated by private Non government Organisations (NGOs) that operate under little government oversight.

It is common knowledge among CWC officials that not all children housed at these CCIs fall into the narrow description of what constitutes a CNCP under the Act, says Nihal K, a former legal and probation officer with the CWC who is now a practicing lawyer, “The task of oversight is with the CWC, until they are well funded and given adequate man power who are well trained, it will be difficult for the government to know what goes on inside these CCIs,” he adds.

The CWC in Telangana have, since 2016, managed to identify and register about 441 Child Care Institutes (CCIs) across the state.

These CCIs house a total of 10,796 boys and girls under the age of 18, many operate with temporary registration while some don't even apply. However, government inspections that are to be carried once every three months take place only at registered CCIs.

The high number of orphanages has gov officials puzzled

CWC officials in Telangana say the number of unregistered CCIs in the state is higher than the 441 CCIs detected by a survey in 2016, After the JJ Act came into effect, CWC officials identified unregistered CCIs through surveys carried out by social workers and child rights activists. The unregistered CCIs were called in for a meeting by district administration where they were asked to register under the JJ Act. Some applied for temporary registration under the JJ Act, some cited that the model rules for CCIs under the JJ Act were unreasonable, some did not register alleging that the CWC officials asked them for a bribe.

A CWC official who did not wish to be named said “(Unregistered CCIs) come to our notice when an ASHA worker goes to carry out a door-to-door survey. They alert the police and the police inform us. We then carry out an inspection,”

There is distrust for the NGO run CCIs, among WCWD and CWC officials and very few meetings have taken place between both parties, “It is a form of business,” said the CWC official, “What else explains the disproportionate number of CCIs we have detected among the districts?” the officer asks.

According to CWC data, while the district of Hyderabad has identified 73 hostels that later became registered CCIs, neighbouring Medchal district alone detected 124 CCIs, “Why does one district require that many orphanages?,” wondered the WCWD director, D Divya. The official was taking a survey of requirements for sanitary napkins among CCIs when she came across the disproportionate number of CCIs among districts in Telangana.

About 41 CCIs were identified in Ranaga Reddy while districts such Warangal Urban (24), Sangareddy (15), Ranga Reddy (41), Nalgonda (19), Bhadradri (14), Khammam (19), Mahbubnagar (13) all recorded high number of CCIs. Apart from these CCIs run by private NGOs, the state government operates 48 CCIs.

Many of these unregistered CCIs operate in small two-bedroom apartments with a male and a female caretaker. “For the outsider, it will look like a family with a lot of children. They won’t even have a signboard outside, but take donations publicly through social media. All it takes to open an orphanage is to set up a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) under the Societies Registration Act at the Revenue Department,” the officer adds.

We are not CCIs, we are educational hostels

From the street outside, the two-floor apartment building where Anil Kumar runs Chinnari Rajula Ilu looks nothing out of the ordinary. But it is home to 21 boys; it's not easy to locate the building in Alwal as there are no signboards.

Anil Kumar has leased out two buildings for a rent of Rs 60,000 per month to house 24 girls and 21 boys. Running the orphanage costs him Rs 2.5 lakh a month which he claims to source through his salary and donations. Anil says most of the expenses are met in the form of donations made as raw materials for food and essentials based on requirements from donors.

(Its not easy to spot Chinnari Rajula Ilu, the orphanage run by Anil Kumar.)

“Very few people give money, maybe Rs 10,000 a month maximum as donations,” says Anil who started his orphanage in 2016 and got it registered the same year.

Not all the children at the CCI are orphans; it also houses children with parents from poor backgrounds and children of single parents. Anil classifies these children as CNCP under the JJ Act. When the COVID-19 related lockdown began in March, a majority of the children at these CCIs returned home to their parents.

“We shouldn't be called a CCI, we should be called educational hostels,” says Anil who is of the view that their hostels should come under the Education Department and follow the rules  under Regulatory Guidelines for Hostels of Educational Institutions issued by the National Commission for protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), “The rules under these guidelines are easy to follow and there is less paperwork.The JJ Act 2015 has increased paperwork where we have to make plan for each child,we have to hire people for the paperwork and that is not practical at an institution that runs on charity,”

Anil claims that the officials with the WCWD have a poor understanding of the JJ Act 2015 and the model rules prescribed under it for CCIs and have thus misclassified education hostels as CCIs.

“The CCIs are only supposed to house Children in conflict with the law, such as children rescued from child labour, bonded labour or children who need shelter while their POCSO cases are under trial, there are 14 (such) classifications under the JJ Act. The 134 CCIs in Medchal are educational hostels, where children who fall outside the 14 classifications of the Act but need care and protection, stay to have a comfortable life. But officials have misclassified and brought them all under one category because of the Act saying so,” he explains. Though Anil insists his CCI is an education hostel, all the children at Anil’s CCI go to a government school nearby.

The WCWD commissioner Divya says any NGO housing children must be registered as per the Act. The Department aims to reduce the number of children at CCIs across the state in the coming months.

“Institutionalization of a child as a last resort is the principle of child protection in the JJ Act 2015. Hence, efforts will be made to reduce the number of children in CCIs,” said the officer, adding, “Enrolling children at government-run residential schools will be given priority,” she added.

In the wake of the death of a 14-year-old girl who was allegedly drugged and sexually abused for over a year at the Maruthi Orphanage in Telangana, CWC officials have initiated a series of inspections at both registered and unregistered CCIs. Before lockdown, 33 CCIs were served notice and closed down, 17 CCIs were closed down after the lockdown.

‘Not possible to inspect’

It's the task of the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) to carry out inspections at CCIs once every three months. These inspections, however, are not regular due to the large number of CCIs, say officials. Often, the quality of inspection is poor, say CCIs.

“They just check the records and don't even talk to the children,” says Anil, who alleged that the officials who visit for inspection do not even study the reports on the children sent to them prior to the inspections.

The CWC does not have the resources to carry out regular inspections even at the registered CCIs, says a CWC official to TNM. “It takes four weeks to properly inspect a CCI, when there are 124 CCIs in a district, a year is not enough to inspect all of them,” says the officer, asking, “If we are unable to even monitor the registered CCIs, who knows what goes on inside these unregistered CCIs?”

In the case of the 14-year-old girl from Maruthi Orphanage, the sexual abuse allegedly went on for close to a year. The DCPU officials told TNM that they had carried out an inspection at the Maruthi Orphanage in January this year, but failed to detect anything amiss. The officials had also carried out an inspection in April, a few weeks after the minor girl was sent back to her maternal uncle’s residence at Jeedimetla.

Crimes do happen inside CCI

Over the years, reports of children at CCIs being subjected to sexual assault, begging, torture and even manual scavenging have come to light. But the quality of inspections at the CCIs never improved.

The Telangana government had hiked the budget for the Child Protection Services programme under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) from Rs 1,350 crore in 2019 to Rs 1,500 crore in the 2020 budget. But the hike has done little to improve the situation on the ground, as no recruitment has taken place. There are not enough staff to carry out the inspections, say CWC officials.

A month before J Madava Rao was arrested in the POCSO case, another owner of a CCI, Save A Child, was also arrested for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. TNM visited the four-story apartment building of Save A Child that has now been sealed by the police. The owner, M Suneeth Kumar, is now out on bail.

(The building that housed Save A Child has been shut since 2018, but the administration claims to be active)

According to police records at the Malkajgiri police station, Suneeth promised the uncle of the girl child that he will take care of her education until she gets a job, but allegedly began sexually assaulting the girl soon after. The girl then reached out to her uncle for help who then filed a police complaint.

At first, speaking to TNM, Suneeth claimed the CCI was shut as all the children have left home due to COVID-19.

“The children have gone home due to the pandemic. The CCI will resume in a couple of months. We are now at Pragathi Nagar,” said Suneeth. When confronted about the POCSO case under trial, Suneeth changed his stance, saying, “We have been shut since 2017, only our administration is functioning at Pragathi Nagar,”. He has been unresponsive since.

In 2016, a member of the CWC from Ranga Reddy district was arrested for sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy. The CWC official, identified as A Krishna, allegedly forged paperwork to transfer the boy from the government-run CCI at Saidabad to an NGO-run CCI at Kukatpally. The boy, however, did not reach the CCI at Kukatpally, but was instead taken to the home of the CWC official where he was allegedly sexually abused for two months.

The boy ran away from the home of the CWC official and reached his uncle's home who then reached out to the Kukatpally police. The case is stuck in court as the sexual assault survivor did not turn up in court, say the police. Krishna refused to comment.

In 2017, a video emerged of a 12-year-old girl who was made to enter a manhole at AGAPE Orphan Home at Uppal. Two people were arrested in this case.

In 2016, a pastor identified as James, who ran the Bhrama Puthra Social Service Society, an unregistered CCI, was arrested by the Gachibowli police for sending 19 children out for begging along Hyderabad's IT corridor. Speaking to this reporter in 2016, Sharada, a single mother who sent her two sons to the CCI run by James, said the pastor sent out the boys for begging on Independence Day and the days after that to pay the private school fees of the 19 children. The mother had sent the two children to the pastor with hopes for a better education.

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