EDITORIAL

Food for thought

Food

The recent arrest of the assistant director of SOS Children’s Village at Azara on the outskirts of Guwahati on charges of sexual assault on three girl inmates is a serious matter. The survivors informed the SOS Village authority, but allegedly no action was taken. It was only when they mustered courage to talk about their ordeal to members of Rotaract Club, which was holding a leadership camp at the Village, that the matter came to light. Things started moving when these members got in touch with a journalist and a child rights activist, leading to an FIR lodged at Azara police station. After launching an investigation, the police arrested the official and charged him under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. How this case fares in trial stage at court remains to be seen, but such a shameful incident occurring for the first time in this three-decade-old SOS Village has bred a sense of insecurity among inmates and dismayed well-wishers. SOS Children’s Villages International has been rendering yeoman’s service in caring for children ‘who have lost parental care, or stand to lose it’. But times are changing — caring for deprived children requires great caution and vigilance on the part of authorities concerned. The horrendous rapes of inmates at a shelter for destitute girls at Muzaffarpur in Bihar has been revealed thanks to an audit carried out by Tata Institute of Social Sciences. A shocked country has come to know how a conspiracy of silence between NGO functionaries running the shelter home and government welfare officials made possible the systematic beating, confining, drugging and rape of inmates by the NGO boss and influential people. Yet this shelter used to be regularly inspected by members of government child protection committee, juvenile justice monitoring committee, women’s commission, UNICEF and other agencies. Now comes the news of sexual abuse of inmates at a shelter home in Deoria, prompting the Uttar Pradesh government to order a probe. Considering the fact that inmates in such children shelters and villages are mostly poor, orphaned and highly vulnerable in many ways, there is a crying need to devise a system that will allow effective monitoring and social audit, open interaction between inmates and public-spirited organizations, as well as access to a vigilant media so as to blow the lid off any criminal goings-on.