Orphanages: NGOs up against government

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The state government’s move to bring orphanages under the Orphanages Act, and remove them from the purview of the Juvenile Justices Act, has kicked off a row with NGOs arguing it could hurt the children more than protect them.

The decision taken at a meeting held by chief minister Oommen Chandy with a few of his Cabinet colleagues and members of the orphanages control board was reportedly based on prodding by representatives of several orphanages.

As most are run by religious bodies, the move is being seen as a way to appease them.

Social welfare minister M.K. Muneer, when contacted, confirmed the government planned to bring orphanages entirely under the Orphanages Act by amending the rules concerned.

“We propose to incorporate the rules related to human trafficking in the Orphanages Act. A meeting was held with the chief minister recently in this regard,” he said.

Going by a 2010 estimate, there are 1,387 registered orphanages in the state caring for thousands of orphans. The largest number – 2,279 male and 1,365 female orphans – are in Malappuram.

However, NGOs feel the government move could backfire as the Juvenile Justice Act-2000 looks out for the orphans, insisting on orphanages providing each child a 40 square feet space, and laying down proper guidelines on their food, clothing, daily routine, study and recreation. On the other hand the Orphanages Control Act of 1960 is vague, in their view.

“The Central rules framed in 2007 stipulated that the orphanages should function according to the Juvenile Justices Act.

But, the state has several unregistered orphanages that exploit the children and house them in jail-like conditions,” says Ms J. Sandhya, lawyer-activist from Human Rights Law Network, an NGO.

“The Child Welfare Committees don’t seem to be able to do anything about this,” she added.

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