Not all is well with ‘orphanages’
Four months ago, 15 children were rescued from an “orphanage” in Kathmandu. Now they have all been reunited with their parents.
“Don’t tell them your folks are alive,” the owner who ran the Anath Bal Kalyan Nepal would tell the children. When tourists visited the place, the ‘orphanage’ placard would shine bright. Rest of the time, it was to be referred to as a hostel.
According to Pradeep Dongol, child protection officer with the Children and Women in Social Services (CWISH) Nepal, who carried out the rescue operation in coordination with the District Administration Office, the operator of the centre even charged the children’s parents money, in return for “securing a safe future for their young ones”.
The data released recently by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare show 62 children were rescued from child care centres in the past year.
Children’s homes have come into the limelight with cases of abuse and trafficking surfacing in the last six months. In February, the Kathmandu-based orphanage Happy Home was raided while its owner, Bishwo Prasad Acharya, has been charged with child trafficking. A former employee at Bal Mandir has been accused of abusing autistic children.
While it is conducting raids and scrapping licences to manage institutional care in the country, challenges persist, said Namuna Bhusal of the Central Child Welfare Board.
According to the ministry, there are a total of 594 child care centres, operating in 46 districts with a total of 16,617 children but activists say there are many more operating on the pretext of helping children. Bhusal said major challenges lie with centres that are not registered, making them difficult to track.
Standards for Operation and Management of Residential Child Care Homes (2012), a directive prepared by the government, lays out a work plan for the homes but a report released in March by CWISH states that the guidelines have been followed only by very few centres.
Another major hindrance is that the homes move residences without notice. “Monitoring is effective only when we can trace the centres, which becomes difficult due to unreported changes of their address,” she said.
The CWISH report states that out of the 325 children’s homes in the Valley, 232 were operating from a rented space.
Outside the Valley, the awareness is low, according to Madhu Sudhan Dawadi, project manager at CWIN who recently conducted a research on child care homes in Makawanpur, Morang and Banke districts. “A majority of children’s homes in the districts were unaware of the 2012 directive,” he said.
He said many of the operators did not know of the major documents that the centres are expected to keep in order to maintain good records. “Individual information about the child, health status and educational background are the major documents which a lot of centres don’t care about.”
Another thing missing at the homes is counsellors. “Counselling is an extremely important part of these homes in order to nurture the children and also to identify patterns of abuse. But it’s sad that counsellors are present in less than 10 percent of children’s homes in the districts,” said Bhandari.
Despite the challenges, authorities did observe some positive signs in places where coordination among the chief district officer and the district child welfare body is strong. “When local bodies coordinate well, it is only then that this whole mechanism will work and we can identity cases of abuse and mismanagement,” he said.
Another important factor to strengthen effective mechanism is taking strong action against perpetrators, con men and middlemen, said Child Protection Officer Dongol. “Sending a strong signal is important,” he said, stressing that the man who ran the ‘Anath Bal Kalyan Nepal’ is still out in the open.