Caught in red tape, special orphans cry out for care

More than six months after the government ordered that children with special needs be put under the supervision of the social welfare department to ensure their better care, nearly 850 such children continue to languish in homes run by the department of women and child development without the facilities they require.

A government resolution (GR) on May 30 this year directed that children in 19 homes run by the women and child development in the state be brought under the social welfare department because the homes do not have trained staff and the former department is unable to provide them the required care.

A mentally challenged child recently died for alleged lack of care, and the authorities moved children with special needs out of the home and cancelled its licence. An inquiry was ordered.

The two departments are yet to meet formally, and have to sort out several technical issues including staff. "The process is on but several things need to be addressed. As these homes will come directly under the social justice department, roles need to be specified," WCD deputy commissioner Rahul More said.

He added that "the department will have to take total responsibility to appoint staff and provide necessary care. These are children under the Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection), and they will also come under the Persons With Disability Act. There are papers which need to be readied."

The social welfare department runs 1,100 institutions across the state, which house some 79,000 children. Social welfare department commissioner Bajirao Jadhav said a formal meeting is yet to take place with the two ministers concerned. "We too have constraints regarding staff. However, the ministers have to decide," Jadhav said.

He said that staff appointments at these institutions can be made by the women and child welfare department, several of whose homes are run by non-governmental organisations.

The May 30 GR came after Bombay High Court asked for a medical examination of each one of the children with special needs housed in the homes in the wake of the Panvel case where five mentally challenged girls at a shelter home were raped.

There were reports of sexual harassment at another home for mentally challenged children in Mumbai as well. Both cases were brought to light by a committee appointed by the High Court in 2010 to investigate the condition of shelter homes in Maharashtra.

Child Welfare Committee (CWC) members have repeatedly pointed out that the facilities at WCD homes are not adequate for children with special needs. "The department is not equipped to handle these children. We have been moving these children to homes at various places or putting them in the care of NGOs," a CWC member said.

Deputy Commissioner More said, "If these homes are taken over by the social welfare department, they can appoint trained staff and give the children necessary care. For this year, we have provided the budget, but from the next financial year the social welfare department should look into the matter."

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