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Our Children, Our Future: Dear Smriti Irani, these child development and humanitarian issues cannot wait

Sufficient scrutiny is needed on individuals and organizations that are invited to participate in WCD’s legislative efforts.

Dear Mrs Smriti Irani,

Congratulations on a spectacular electoral victory and appointment as Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development. You have lived up to the appellation of a giant-slayer and have stood up against the odds to carve out this win.

As concerned citizens, the authors of this article wish to draw your attention to three disturbing trends in child development, especially relating to the most vulnerable children in our society – orphans, runaways, children of the indigent and children of marginalized sections of society.

Childline services need improved monitoring

The childline services have been found to act in an arbitrary and high-handed manner. Let us point you to two aspects of the interventions that they make:

Harassment at public places

In one instance, Bihari children studying at a Veda Pathashala in Srirangam were investigated by Childline authorities. They also gave the impression in the press that these children were being trafficked. We investigated through private sources with the Pathashala in question. These children were returning home for the holidays. Most of the parents of these children could not afford to travel to Chennai and hence sent a few representatives to Chennai. The others collected their wards at Patna Railway Station. Upon their arrival at Patna, Childline Patna subsequently confirmed with the people who had come to Patna station to take charge of their wards and sent word to Childline Chennai Central. Given the background of foreign funding and the sectarian nature of NGOs running these services, we request more oversight to prevent such harassment.

Prejudiced treatment of marginalized communities

72 castes and tribes were classified by the British colonial government as Criminal Tribes, i.e., taking birth in that community was sufficient to be classified as a suspect in several crimes. The communities have been denotified, but the Indian State has not ceased its suspicion and disapproval of their frequently nomadic lifestyle.

District Childline authorities separate children as young as 7 or 8 from their parents and send them to childcare institutions in the district. In some cases, we hear of children being admitted to homes and running away from them.

In one case in Kerala, the entire band of people these children were with were removed from the State of Kerala, since the district did not have sufficient places in shelters to house these children.

Aboriginal children in Canada and Australia were separated from their parents and made wards of the State. This is no less an injustice and violation of human rights. European countries frequently harass Romani people and make them move on suspicions of crimes by these people.

The parents are charged with engaging these children in child labour or begging.  In the absence of houses where the children could be left behind, the parents seem to take the children with them as they go about their usual livelihood of selling knick-knacks on pavements and other public places. If upper-middle-class women can take their children to their workplace or the small shop owners can have their children in the shop premises during summer holidays, why would the State intervene only in the case of indigent, marginalized communities?

We would insist on sensitivity training to these Childline teams as well as vetting the background of the organizations.

Some of these organizations have powerful vested interests abroad funding them. A small sample is shown below:

It is our earnest request that these organizations and similar foreign funded ones working in the domain of Child Rights be brought under scrutiny. Also, we need a review of penalties imposed on these organizations including

  1. Removing empanelment from Childline
  2. Removing FCRA registration and charitable trust status
  3. Criminal action where required

Child Care Institutions

Media reports arrive on a regular basis about child care institutions where horrific crimes are perpetrated on the children in their care.

We suggest the following steps towards improving scrutiny of these child care institutions

  1. Improved data gathering: The Ministry of WCD should collect a master list of CCIs across the country.
  2. Against each CCI, the name and registration number of the trust, foundation, society or non-profit company must be registered.
  3. The registry must be cross-linked with the Darpan Portal and registration on Darpan must be made mandatory for continued operations of child care homes.
  4. The registry must be cross-linked with the FCRA registration database available with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  5. Details of key personnel, changes in the composition of the Board of Trustees and key personnel must be updated and notified to the WCD Ministry.

A comprehensive manual for the monitoring of these CCIs must be made available. The Central WCD ministry must review frequently, the monitoring mechanisms set up in the States.

The data with the WCD will be used for the following:

  1. Prompt activation of the criminal justice system as soon as reports of wrong doing are received.
  2. Freezing of accounts, rescinding tax exemptions of the organizations in question.
  3. Key personnel must have passports impounded to avoid flight out of the country as in this case

Oversight over RTE monitoring and implementation

In this particular case, we point you to this article that appeared in the Indiafacts online portal in 2015.

This report proves conclusively that the entire activity of monitoring RTE compliance, following up and complaining are carried out by NGO Consortia that report into the NCPCR, which is a body set up in the WCD Ministry.

As we have seen in the last decade or so, the influence of foreign funds in our civil society has often had a malign effect on the Indian body politic.

Our humble request is to place the monitoring and implementation of such Government programmes outside the purview of FCRA funded NGOs. An appropriate modification to the rules of the FCRA may be suggested to the MHA.

Oversight and vetting in legislation

In 2017, the NCPCR under WCD ministry brought out a document to describe the powers of the Child Welfare Committee. The document included the logo of Justice and Care. JAC is a project of Waste Management Society, Yavatmal, FCRA-NGO, MH/84010051. WMS has been sent a Questionnaire by FCRA Wing (as per MoS(Home)’s reply in Lok Sabha dated 20-03-2018).

Such a questionnaire is usually the first step in an investigation. While the Ministry of Home Affairs was investigating an organization, one of its constituents, an individual by the name Adrian Phillips was a member of the committee drafting the anti-trafficking bill piloted by the Ministry of WCD.

Sufficient scrutiny is needed on individuals and organizations that are invited to participate in WCD’s legislative efforts.

(The author acknowledges sourcing all raw data from the blog – fcraanalyses.blogspot.in)

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