helter homes from different parts of the country have come under the scanner in recent times with the emergence of reports of sexual exploitation of inmates. Such cases have been reported form Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and most lately from Dhenkanal district in Odisha. In the wake of the complaints, the government of Odisha ordered the closure of several more such facilities, also found to be operating without the necessary clearances to operate. The state, though, needs to address the deeper, underlying issue here that cannot be done merely by the closing down of institutions in the dock. The incidence of sexual abuse against minors has seen a spurt over the past two years. Right from the rape of the minor girl at Kunduli, numerous such instances involving children have emerged from across the state. The Dhenkanal shelter case came to light after a few female inmates came out against the chairman of the home Fayaz Rahman and caretaker Simanchal Nayak and said they were being sexually abused by the duo. The shelter was being run at Beltikri by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Good News India. Investigation revealed that the centre was being funded from Canada and the US and that the same NGO, registered only in West Bengal, has 26 unregistered branches in Odisha. Following Rahman’s arrest and admission to the absence of clearances, the state also shut down other shelters as a measure to prevent abuse. But the action has drawn fire from parents of the other inmates at these homes, who now have to grapple with the upkeep of their children and are worried about the education of these youngsters. The government’s action in this light seems to betray the absence of adequate thrust on exploring alternatives before addressing the issue in any proper, well thought out manner. The optics that its action has provided has not translated into relief for the survivors of the abuse and has also caused discomfort to a larger number of students waiting to step into a world of better opportunities. The absence of continual monitoring of such institutions was the biggest failure on the part of the government and it has contributed to the setting in of such decay. While saying this we must be aware that there exists no government machinery that can possibly locate and inspect unregistered and illegal homes such as the one at Beltikri.
The remedy does not lie in the closure of these institutions. It lies in reforming and reshaping institutions within fixed deadlines so that the scope for abuse is limited. Most importantly it lies in the mindset of the people getting into such activities. If this society abounds with people with a criminal outlook, the situation becomes precarious. The closure of shelters will only help deny a larger number of persons not directly affected by the abuse what is rightfully theirs and will bring them, too, into the fold of victims. An option that could have been explored was to bring changes in the management of the institutions. Managements and staff at the organisations could have been removed and replaced with persons who could be trusted. But then, who can really be trusted by government officials? That is easier said then done.
Keeping the institutions operational would ensure that children who have not been subject to abuse could continue education without hindrance. Measures such as closure of homes can have grave consequences as they could end up remaining closed for the rest of their life. At a time when resources and infrastructure are inadequate to meet the needs of institutions, it is knee-jerk reaction to order their closure. The institutions should remain open and their function should be regulated for them to serve any meaningful purpose in society. Instead of government bureaucrats, social leaders should be given responsibilities to oversee such homes and transparency must be maintained in all matters concerning the operations and people involved.