While the first episode of The Lost Child, a Suno India production supported by Firstpost, looked at the abuse prevalent in Muzaffarpur’s Balika Griha, the second episode follows up with an interview of Tarique Mohammed, who lead the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) team through the audit which brought this issue to light.
The idea behind the audit, Mohammed explains, was simply to evaluate the well-being and safety of the children, women and elderly people living in government institutions and get feedback from residents. With the children in particular, their aim was to show them that the government cared about them and was taking active steps to improve their situation.
However, in the case of the Muzaffarpur home, Mohammed recalls a state of eerie silence as they entered — an immediate red flag, considering there were 50 children living there. The children also seemed prepared for the official visit and were reluctant to speak up. “I think we are failing our children," says Mohammed, adding that after the Muzaffarpur case, similar situations surfaced in Orissa and Tamil Nadu. “You know what we are doing? We are doing nothing," he adds.
While most shelter homes don’t subject children to gross violations, they are still in precarious situations.
Most work on limited budgets with only Rs 2000 per child for all expenses, which translates to low quality and limited food. Most didn’t have any professional medical assistance on hand. Mohammed gives the example of a boy who wanted to study but wasn’t sent to a school because of the fear that he would run away, and staff was thin enough that one couldn’t be spared to monitor the boy. Another important insight is that many social workers seem content with making assessments by checking the records on file instead of actually visiting the institutions; the Muzaffarpur shelter home, for instance, had 60 recorded visits.
“There has to be a social audit done for all institutions, as a rule, by an independent agency," Mohammed offers as one of the solutions. This should be aided with feedback from children. Their feedback is mandatory according to the Juvenile Justice Act, but in reality, children’s committees only exist on paper with no actual knowledge when discussed.
Mohammed warns of the anger or insecurity children will grow up if continually neglected and mistreated, ending with examples of institutions where children are being treated well, which can serve as models.