SC concerned over missing children from shelter homes

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New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it was "very distressing that more than two lakh children were 'missing' from government-run shelters homes, suggesting that there should be Central and state-level committees to monitor and prevent the incidents of physical and sexual abuse of children living in such homes.

A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice S. Abdul Naseer and Justice Deepak Gupta was told by a lawyer assisting the court that as per data available from 2016 to March 2018, there were more than two lakh children missing from the shelter homes.

The bench told the Centre: "It makes us very sad that children are treated as numbers. Are you aware of the situation? It is very distressing."

As per the 2016-17 data of Childline India Foundation and Ministry of Women and Child Development March 2018 data, over two lakh kids are missing.

Advocate Bala Subramanian, representing the Centre, told the court that the difference in number might be due to data inflation or survey errors.

Reading the report that contained data, the amicus curiae told the bench that as per 2016-17 data of Childline Foundation there were 4,73,000 children in shelter homes across the country.

As per March 2018 data of the ministry, there were 2,61,557 children in the homes, making a difference of over two lakh children, the lawyer told the court.

The bench said possibility was that either two lakh children are missing or shelter homes gave inflated figures to get funds.

The court took note of the data of Childline Foundation collected through survey, as per which there were 9,589 shelter homes in the country. Out of these, 5,764 were not registered, but children have been living in them, revealed the data.

More that fifty per cent of these shelter homes are overcrowded, stated the data, adding that 97 districts in the country have no homes for children.

In these shelter homes, corporal punishment and other disciplinary punishments are prevalent, which also include withholding of food and abusive language, the court noted.

The bench said it wanted a committees be set up at the Central level and in each states and Union Territories. These cane be headed by a retired apex court or high court judge to monitor the incidents that come to light such as the ones in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Deoria in Uttar Pradesh.

The Central government's counsel said he will take instruction from the government on the issue.

The bench also took into note that there are around 50,000 children who are potentially free for adoption, but due long waiting list, parents (who wants to adopt children) have to wait for at least four years.

The bench also slammed West Bengal government for having only two functioning Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in two districts.

"Our of 23 district, how can it (CWC) work only in two districts?," asked the bench, at which counsel appearing for the state replied that CWC will start functioning in 4-5 more districts in a few weeks.

Not satisfied with West Bengal's response, the top court said: "Report says there is a lot of trafficking going on. If trafficking is going on, then children need lots of attention."

The court is hearing a PIL filed on the basis of a 2007 newspaper report on sexual abuse of children in orphanages and childcare institutes.