Like inches of a duct tape, a road sticks inwards into Delhi’s walled city. It tears on bends and fails to hide municipal cracks on either side. Deep within is Bachchiyon ka Ghar, a 125-year-old orphanage for Muslim girls. The 47 occupants of this crammed home—from the six-year-old Aamna who was abandoned by her widowed father to the 17-year-old Farzana who likes to design gowns for others because she’s not allowed to wear them—are regularly eve-teased and can't set foot in their neighbourhood when alone.
The home receives the standard MCD grant of Rs 500 per child per month but the expenditure is no less than Rs 4,500. Through the years, the management has been appealing to the government for relocation. In its less jumbled next door, Darya Ganj, is Arya Anathalaya that houses 1,200 students in a 2.5 acres CBSE-affiliated boarding school. One can’t help but wonder why those girls aren’t shifted here from that bird cage of a home? Orphanages in Old Delhi run on religious lines, while the Quran Sharif is taught in the former, Arya Samaj havans and pravachans are conducted in the latter. If the government fails to provide a secular alternative, has it any right to question the intent of the private donors of these communities?
The fault line, says Girish Bhalwar, director of South Asia Partnership India Trust and child rights activist, is the Juvenile Justice Act 2015. Unlike the earlier Women and Children’s Institutions (Licensing) Act 1956 that kept the government’s role limited to licensing and inspection, the new act gives them the right to forcefully admit juvenile delinquents and snatch away the home's licence if the management refuses to admit them. The act puts orphans (who are largely children of destitute single parents) in one category with children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. The homes don’t want to admit rapists and rape victims or drug addicts because they have a negative impact on others. These are orphanages, not reform homes.
The staff at the Jain Bal and Mahila Ashram, also in Old Delhi, is tired of entertaining inspection officers who come in packs of 15, at least five times a year. The staff that works with ‘seva bhav’ says they fend off questions like ‘why is there a temple in the complex?’ and ‘who are the private donors?’ MCD funding means administrative burden so they don't want it. Loraine Campos, in-charge of adoptions at Delhi Council of Child Welfare in North Delhi, shares a similar story. “We are inspected by the Central Adoption Resource Authority, State Adoption Resource Authority, Child Welfare Committee, District Child Protection Unit and the High Court,” she says. Any of these bodies providing or sanctioning funds? No. She says instead of focusing on illegal adoptions that are rampant in Delhi hospitals, they are questioning the well-meaning. She adds that placements are no longer in their hands and a child with a complicated medical history can now be sent to a home that can’t take care of its needs.The paper on which laws are made doesn’t have reality written on it. “We can’t blindly follow the UN convention on the rights of the child that prescribe a 20-square-feet space per child. The size of our problem is large,” says a senior staff person as Arya Anathalaya. At this home, in Gandhian spirit, children clean their own bathrooms. That too is now objectionable.
Sanjay Kumar, co-director, Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, runs six of the 30 short- and long-term shelter homes in the capital. Child rights NGO Save the Children India did a study in 2011 listing 51,000 street children in Delhi of which 70 per cent had a home. “We did a survey four years prior to theirs and counted three-four lakh such children. The fact that each shelter home has a guideline to house 25 indicates the dangerously disproportioned ratio,” he says. The act requires homes to return kids to society at 18, when there’s a great chance of them returning to homelessness; the way forward is shown but not paved. The capital’s orphanages wish they be orphaned from the system.