There is something critical that we need to address, and it needs to happen right now. Hundreds of young children and adolescents in the country are experiencing unabated and brutal physical and sexual violence at the same shelters where they are supposed to receive care and protection. We need to amplify our voices and let our anger spill into debates and election discussions. There is an environment of apathy that has encouraged this scenario with high-rung politicians taking advantage of the impunity to freely commit crimes.
Take for example the case of Muzzafarpur where over 30 young girls – a few as young as
seven years of age – were injected with sedatives and subjected to physical and sexual abuse for years without even the slightest inkling to the law enforcement authorities – or so we are made to believe. At one of the government-run observation homes in Araria district, an audit report found that the guard appointed by the Bihar police was inflicting brutality and violence on the children at the shelter. Further, the report revealed details on a plethora of other cases of shelter homes subjecting individuals to gruesome acts of sexual and physical abuse in a section titled ‘Grave Concerns — institutions requiring immediate attention’. And this is only the beginning.
How many more shelters at this very moment are continuing to conceal acts of verbal and physical abuse and denying basic amenities? How effective is our law enforcement in concealing as opposed to exposing these crimes?The trauma resulting from Child sexual abuse is a massive human rights violation and can have a devastating effect on the victim. In the long-term, abuse can lead to anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorders, and self-destructive behaviours. Some studies indicate that early exposure to trauma and stress can hamper neurodevelopment and increase the child’s vulnerability to psychological disorders. The girls rescued from the Muzzafarpur shelter have spent the past months battling deep issues resulting from the traumatic incidents.
It is time we stopped turning a blind eye towards the state of shelter homes in the country. As a society, we should take a moment to pause and consider the impact of our skewed values. Child protection mechanisms are supposed to work towards the prevention of violence, abuse, and exploitation against children. How could several years of abuse take place in the confines of these homes? Why was there an absence of monitoring at these shelters or rather inaccurate reporting of their state? There is institutional apathy in these cases. The Supreme Court, in the Muzzafarpur case, was forced to order the transfer the proceedings to Delhi while castigating the Bihar government for providing inaccurate and incomplete details on the status of shelter homes in the State.
The Supreme Court’s decision has only unveiled what we fear the most – that the justice system has lost faith in its own procedures for child protection and its commitment to investigating charges. What is even more shocking is that the social welfare department in the State waited for more than a month after receiving the audit report before sending an instruction letter to the district protection unit. It is time that the State and public pay attention and take responsibility for breeding the type of culture that allows sexual and physical abuse against children to thrive behind closed doors of homes and institutions.
By Satvika Khera
Satvika Khera is a human rights researcher and activist based in India. She has previously worked in the prevention of human trafficking with organizations in Thailand and India.