MADURAI: As of July 8, 295 children are missing in the State. The number would have been 297 had the two toddlers sold into illegal adoption by an NGO in Madurai not been rescued. The incident raises several questions over the effectiveness of existing systems to ensure the safety of abandoned women and children in the State.
The Madurai incident came to light after a one-year-old boy, who was under the care of one Idhayam Trust, was claimed to have died of Covid at the Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH). An investigation, however, revealed that he, along with another toddler, was sold to illegal adoption by the chief executive director of the trust, GR Sivakumar, and his accomplices.
It turned out that the NGO, which had been recognised with several State awards and worked closely with the police for over ten years, used the ‘trust’ of the public to pursue unscrupulous activities. Notably, the same NGO had been allocated a building by the Madurai Corporation less than a year ago to look after the destitute rescued during the lockdown. Soon after the aforementioned incident, three more children were rescued in similar cases of illegal adoption near Jaihindpuram in Madurai.
Subsequently, all NGO-run Homes in the district were inspected by the District Social Welfare Department following an order by Collector S Aneesh Sekhar. Madurai also has two Central government-aided Homes and one State government-aided Home.
According to District Social Welfare Officer, Helen Rose, around 20 of the 39 Homes in Madurai were functioning without registration. “They have been told to register with the department soon. This apart, registration process is underway for 5 Homes. Eleven have renewed their licenses. While one Home was shut down by the district administration, two others did so themselves,” she said.
New ‘revelations’ to the fore
After the incident at Idhayam Trust, officials at the District Social Welfare Department claimed that they had been urging the trust to register with the department for months. It may be noted that the NGO had been registered under the Societies Registration Act as ‘Idhayam Geriatric Care Center’ but not with the Social Welfare Department.
“Many NGOs register under the Societies Registration Act, Companies Act or Indian Trust Act, but run Homes for children, senior citizens or integrated Homes. It is mandatory for any NGO that intends to run any kind of Home to register with the Social Welfare department concerned. Besides, it is the duty of the officials of the social welfare department to regularly inspect and audit such NGOs,” said an official.
When homes put on new masks
Child Welfare Committee (CWC-Madurai) members B Pandiaraja and L Shanmugam told Express that there were 55 Homes for children in Madurai a year or two ago. “The Home Monitoring Committee, comprising members from CWC, District Child Protection Service, Juvenile Justice Board, and medical officers, carried out regular inspections, quarterly meetings, and audits. This turned out to be a problem for many NGOs and so they volunteered to shut themselves down. Now, there are only 35 registered children Homes in Madurai,” they said. They, however, highlighted that when defunct Homes register under different Acts and start sheltering women, children, and senior citizens, it goes beyond the ambit of CWC to monitor them.
Yet another problem is with integrated homes. Many abandoned mothers, along with their children, are housed at integrated homes. “When an abandoned child is rescued, the child cannot be accommodated at a registered home without a clearance certificate from the CWC, but when a child and its abandoned mother are rescued, they are admitted at integrated homes. If these Homes choose to not inform the CWC about the inability of the mother to look after the child, the committee will not be able to bring the child to the legal-adoption system. This is another way for children to fall prey to trafficking, illegal adoption, flesh trade, and begging,” said another official.
Shifting of inmates
The inmates of the Idhayam Trust, including nine children, were later shifted to an integrated home in Palangantham. But, this Home already had around 28 other children who had not been brought to the notice of CWC. “Of the nine children rescued from the Idhayam Trust, there was a boy whose uvula had been cut off to make him beg. He will undergo treatment soon. But, when such children remain in integrated Homes without the knowledge of CWC and other government agencies, the very purpose of the system fails,” added the official.
When a couple registers for adoption, the nearest agency is notified to carry out a home study. If everything goes well and the couple/adopting parent finds a child, an adoption committee decides that the child can be adopted
Many seek infants believing it would not, later in life, know that it was adopted. There have, however, been cases wherein an adoptee accepting the adopted parents after growing up and seeking out its biological parents
Child trafficking and illegal adoption are making headlines again with the ‘sale’ of two Madurai toddlers. The case highlights the lack of an effective mechanism to ensure the safety of those residing in childcare homes but whether the furore over the Idhayam Trust incident will lead to change or be forgotten is to be seen