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Last month seven children escaped from the Government Juvenile Home in Chennai. When the guard dozed off for a short while early in the morning, these children, who were lodged in the reception centre of the home, managed to flee from the home. Among these seven, one belonged to Tamil Nadu while others hailed from states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. They had been lodged in the home for more than six months. Among these children, some didn’t know their parents while the parents of a few were separated. A few children had been abandoned by the parents.

There are frequent incidents of children escaping from juvenile homes run by government and non-governmental organizations. Most of them are rescued sometime later and handed over to the children’s homes. Some go missing and it remains a mystery where these children disappeared.

In the Chennai incident, the children who hailed from the North Indian states had been kept in juvenile homes in their respective states. They managed to escape from those homes and reached Chennai by boarding trains without tickets. While they were roaming around the city, they were either spotted by ChildLine or the policemen deployed for monitoring run-away children, and brought to the Juvenile Home.

There are frequent incidents of children escaping from juvenile homes run by government and non-governmental organizations.

It is pertinent to note that children lodged in the reception centres of the Juvenile Homes are not in conflict with the law. They are temporarily housed in the facility till the Probation Officer completes the inquiry and submits the report on these children to the local Child Welfare Committee. Based on these reports, the children are handed over to the Child Welfare Committees in their states. Among the seven boys who escaped from the Juvenile Home in Chennai, one is still not traced while the rest were spotted and rescued at Rameswaram and Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh.

Not just boys, even girls have escaped from juvenile homes in the past. Three girls escaped from a children’s home run by a Non-Governmental Organization at Kozhikode recently. They were rescued by police at Thuckalay in Kanyakumari district. The rescued girls have been lodged at children’s homes in Kanyakumari district.

Such incidents continue to happen frequently.  Why do boys and girls flee from the children’s homes which are supposed to keep them safe and cared for and what prompts them to do so? I am sharing my findings on these questions.

It should be noted that children below the age of 14 consist 26% of the 138 crore Indian population. This means one out of four in the Indian population is a child. Sadly, thousands of children are not given adequate care in this country. The Children or Juvenile Homes were created to take care of children who are abandoned, orphaned, or abused by their parents.

According to the report released by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development a few years ago, there are 6,368 children’s homes in the country. Tamil Nadu is one of the states with many children’s homes, according to the report. To be precise, there are 1,103 children’s homes in Tamil Nadu hosting thousands of such children who need care and protection.

It is sad to note that many of these children’s homes function with the mere aim of providing food, clothing and shelter. Inquiries reveal some stark realities. Apart from food, clothing and shelter, the children long for love, and the children’s home managements don’t realize the emotional needs of these children especially the adolescents.

The inquisitive ones want to break free from the homes which merely lock them up like prisoners.

Apart from food, clothing and shelter, the children long for love, and the children’s home managements don’t realize the emotional needs of these children especially the adolescents

Sometimes, the way the wardens handle the bright children tends to force them into conflict with the law. There are ample incidents where this situation made such children escape from the homes. The children rescued from public places like railway or bus stations by ChildLine and lodged in the reception centres of juvenile homes have to be rehabilitated and sent back to their respective states within three months. When there is an inordinate delay in this process, children reach a mental state of escaping from the homes.

It is an old custom to provide a small amount of money to these children as pocket money from the government exchequer. As of now, this pocket money is Rs 5 per month for each child. Even this monthly pocket money is withheld and handed over to the children when they finally leave the homes. Such a paltry amount of Rs 5 provided from the state government fund won’t fetch anything useful for the child. It is also sad that even these five rupees is not paid to the child every month but handed over at the end of their stay. The government has to look into this and take corrective measures.

Though run by the Social Defence Department, the juvenile and children’s homes are governed by Prison Manual guidelines. This is against the Juvenile Justice Act. It is time the homes controlled by the social defence department realizes the importance of creating a Manual for Children’s Homes which would govern the maintenance, appointment and training of the children’s home staffers. This step will go a long way in ensuring the safety and care of the children.

Failure to pay adequate attention to the care and protection of children housed in the homes will eventually turn them into anti-social elements. And, I don’t think there could be any difference of opinion on this.

(The author is a retired police officer who held several responsibilities in his career including Inspector General (Intelligence))

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