Earlier in May, a shocking report released by CHANGEIndia, a centre for advocacy and research, had left the Tamil Nadu Government red-faced. An investigation by the group revealed that minors from a children's home in Ambattur were being sexually abused, occasionally starved and forced into child labour.
The state Government failed to respond, until the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights intervened, demanding necessary action be taken against the illegally run childcare home.
Following this, Thiruvallur district authorities were forced to spring into action, last week. Except, their version of 'rescuing' children, meant dumping them unceremoniously in yet another child care home, The News Minute has come to learn.
Sevalaya, a registered charitable trust in Thiruninravur has been given the responsibility of taking care of 38 children who have been rescued from Balagurukulam in Ambattur. "This is third time in two years that children from illegal institution have been sent to Sevalaya. We are told just half an hour ahead of time and asked to send a vehicle to pick up the children," says V Muralidharan, founder of Sevalaya.
"We are not given even the birth certificates and transfer certificates of these students. This means, they can't be enrolled in the school run by the trust, when it opens this coming week," he says.
The horrors in the children's home
According to ChangeIndia's report, these children may face bigger problems than admissions in schools.
The owner of the child care home, Ranjith, allegedly stayed with the girls in the institution during the night. â€śThis is a major violation and gives rise to the suspicion that children might be getting abused sexually. One of the inmates presently residing within the child care home has even alleged that she is made to stay with Ranjith during the nightâ€ť, says the report.
The children were further used as child labourers in the construction of an illegal school named 'Guruju Vivekananda Vidhayalaya' owned by Ranjith. They were made to wash vessels and clean the entire campus, the report alleges.
"We believe that several of the girl children may have been sexually abused. The social welfare department must have ensured that they are immediately taken to hospitals for medical examinations and even to gynaecologists," says the Director.
"Several of the children are suffering from malnutrition. They need to be checked for diseases. What more, they were physically abused in the home and require counselling and psychological aid. The social welfare department has done nothing," he said.
When TNM enquired with Sevalaya about the need for children to be counselled, the organisation claimed that they had been given no reports of abuse by the District Collector's office. "We don't know what happened before they came here. Our responsibility is to ensure that they are happy once they come to this home. We don't have details of abuse," says the founder.
To make matters worse, these 38 children from 'Balagurukulam' are not alone in this struggle for rehabilitation.
The reality of rehabilitation
A year after the social defence department became the sole authority to grant licences for child care institutions in Tamil Nadu, a large scale crack down on illegal home is underway in the state. 554 unregistered homes had been closed down and another 300 had been identified as illegal.
In November last year, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court revealed that over 9000 children were lodged in 194 illegal child care homes under its jurisdiction alone.
"90% of these children's care homes are a scam and centres of exploitation. Even putting them up in other homes was only supposed to be a temporary measure. But authorities just want to make it seem like they have taken some kind of a step," says the CHANGEIndia Director.
Official records of the department state that there are presently 1,113 registered homes for children and if we were to go by Sevalaya's example, they don't receive any Government help after taking in additional wards.
"We depend completely on donations for our funds. With over 30 students, suddenly being introduced to the system, we can't create resources overnight," says the Sevalaya founder. "The Government has set norms about how much food, water and even space should be allocated to every child. How can we manage without aid? We are currently facing financial stress," he admits.
Multiple attempts, by TNM to contact the Tamil Nadu State Welfare department, went unanswered.