Whistleblowers reveal horrific conditions at Arunachal orphanage

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Guwahati, September 1: Fifty children, many of them six years or younger, were rescued from an illegal orphanage-cum-school in Pasighat town of Arunachal Pradesh.
Though the illegal home in a ramshackle bamboo-and-thatch structure had been in operation since February this year, it was only after former employees complained to the East Siang district’s Child Welfare Committee (CWC) earlier this month that its presence was noted by authorities.
When the authorities moved to shut the home down, they found the 50 children crammed into five rooms without ventilation, sleeping 10 to a bed, drinking tap water and malnourished as they were served just two meagre meals of rice and watery dal a day.
According to officials, one Karma Bhutia had started Friendship Foundation Academy in February for orphans and children of poor families and single parents. The place turned out to be anything but friendly, officials said, with the teachers in charge of the destitute children’s education leaving when their salaries were not paid, as did the cook.
Poor targeted
East Siang district’s Child Welfare Committee (CWC) got to know about the plight of the children a month ago from people who were earlier associated with the school.
CWC chairperson Obang Dai, in a report to the Deputy Commissioner, said the school and orphanage had no registration but had enrolled 50 children.
“The living conditions in the five-room hostel were deplorable and the classroom had no furniture. About 10 children used to sleep in a room on one same bed. Classes were conducted for just one or two hours a day. The rooms were without any ventilation and very unhygienic. Most of the children also showed signs of skin infections. The children were also not given proper meals with just two meals a day of only rice and dal, while drinking water was taken directly from the tap,” Mr. Dai’s report said.
The report recommended closure of the home for violating the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015.
“We were not aware of such a school until a month ago, maybe because it was like any other bamboo and thatch house. We closed it on Wednesday and have ordered an enquiry into how it was operating without registration and permission,” Deputy Commissioner of East Siang district Tamiyo Tatak said.
Returned to parents
Members of the Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (APSCPCR) and East Siang CWC handed over 38 children from villages around Pasighat to their parents while 22 were taken to a registered, charitable children’s home in Naharlagun, about 255 km southwest of Pasighat, on Thursday.
“Of the 22, only four are orphans. Most of them come from very poor families and from Papum Pare, Kra-Dadi, and Kurung Kumey districts,” APSCPCR member secretary Yame Higio told The Hindu.
Officials said the academy used agents for promotion by word of mouth. Not much is known about Bhutia, who is absconding.
“We are trying to find out more about this man. The police are trying to find him, though he could have fled the State,” Mr. Tatak said.
‘Child trafficking dens’
Though Education Minister Honchun Ngandam did not comment on the issue, department officials said non-governmental schools and orphanages across the State would be monitored to check exploitation of children.
The Opposition Congress has criticised the Pema Khandu government’s “indifference” to the “mushrooming” of illegal children’s homes and orphanages.
“Such unregulated institutions are fronts for illegitimate business enterprises for child trafficking and abuse of child rights,” the Arunachal Mahila Congress chief Nabam Yakum said, adding children from poor families in the Northeast are among the most vulnerable.
(Courtesy: The Hindu)