Sale of COVID-orphans brings spotlight on “orphanage business” in Kashmir
All is not well with them; in fact it never was…; now there’s evidence to say so
Blame it on the conflict in J&K, there has been a mushroom growth of orphanages across the Valley. Some of them, indeed, have played very important role in terms of providing shelter and safety to the vulnerable children, mostly those who have lost their single or both parents to the violence. Some of these orphanages are run by well-respected religious organisations with a reputed track record.
A large number of other child-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been active across the J&K during all these years. Many of these organisations are registered with the concerned departments, but some of them are running illegally, or at least bypassing the rules and regulations.
Currently all of these organisations are under suspicion because of the recent revelations suggesting that Kashmir’s orphan children are on sale in Delhi. So far, police have arrested two persons allegedly involved in child trafficking and sealed the office of a ‘charitable trust’ that calls itself ‘Global Welfare Charitable Trust’ in the Pampore area of Pulwama district.
The matter came to fore when the undercover reporters of a Delhi-based media house, on camera, caught some people offering Kashmiri orphans for illegal adoption. In the sting operation, the offenders have been captured demanding Rs 1.50 lakh for a pair of “Covid orphans”, and that too without any paperwork.
In the video, the accused are seen also offering orphans, other than the Covid victims, for illegal adoption. In response to the question on how many orphans was he in contact with, the accused says, “At least 500-600. From eight to ten years in age,”
Horrifyingly, in the video, an NGO operator from Pampore is captured offering even newborn Covid orphans lifted from hospitals, for adoption.
Soon after the video of the sting operation came to fore, police have started investigations into the matter. An FIR under Section 317, 120 of CrPC, and Section 81 Juvenile Justice Act has been lodged in Police Station Pompore. Two persons — Mohammad Amin Rather, alias Asrar Amin, of Bemina in Srinagar; and Ajaz Ahmad Dar of Pampore in Pulwama district, have already been arrested. And the office of the trust has also been sealed.
“We are trying to ascertain the money transaction details of the trust,” SSP Awantipora Mohammad Yousuf informed ‘Kashmir Images’.
Since the case is under police investigation, it would take some time to get a clearer picture of the matter. However, the incident itself has raised a question mark on the safety and protection of the children living in orphanages in the Valley.
How safe are the boys and girls living in the orphanages across the Valley? Are there enough checks and balances in place in terms of the activities of these orphanages? And, what do the concerned government agencies do to ensure safety and protection of the orphans living in orphanages? To know the answers to these questions, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some officials and the concerned people. Here are the excerpts:
As soon as I came to know that someone has been found trying to sell orphans from Kashmir, I wrote a letter to the Delhi Police Commissioner and the Director-General of Police (DGP) in Kashmir requesting them to investigate the matter. Child-trafficking and selling is an organized crime in India, and we have been constantly trying to deal with these criminals with iron hands.
It is good the case about Kashmir was brought to our notice through media with evidence. Earlier, J&K was not in our jurisdiction, but the abrogation of Article 370 has paved way for us to see the situation in terms of child rights in J&K, and we have started looking into the problems of orphanages there. I assure the people that we have effective laws to monitor and control the orphanages and NGOs working for child protection. We will be doing an audit of all the orphanages in Jammu and Kashmir and subsequently submit the report to the government in the next six months. I hope will be able to identify the orphanage problems in J&K and suggest solutions to these problems.
The media report showing someone trying to sell Kashmiri orphans in Delhi has shocked us all. This is not a normal crime. It is a heinous. We do not need to wait to see if the charge is proven or not. The report has provided us with sufficient evidence to say that something is terribly wrong. I would acknowledge the fact that we have been caught unawares. However, as soon as the matter came to us through media, we started investigating it. At our request, the police have lodged an FIR, and the accused have been arrested.
Moreover, we have started physical verification of the “Covid orphans” to confirm they are safe. We have 635 children who became orphaned due to the Covid. Of them, 620 are have lost a parent, and 15 have lost both parents. As of now, we have got confirmation about the safety of most of these kids. In a few days, we will complete the physical verification of all of them.
Additionally, we have formed committees to see all the orphans who are registered with us. Our teams would visit physically to check each and every child to ensure all of them are safe. It will take us 15 days to confirm the safety of these children.
Furthermore, we have decided to trace all those girls who are orphaned and have nobody to take care of them. We will ensure their safety and well-being. These surveys will be done in every district.
Orphanage or the foster home concept is not new to humanity. These homes are found everywhere in the world. You will find some people in every country who have been brought up in foster homes. It is a considered view that foster homes cannot be better than parental homes for a child. However, if a child is facing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at his own home, then it is better for him or her to be in a foster home where he or she can get a better environment. Therefore, we cannot say whether orphanages are good or bad. It depends on the situation a particular child is grappling with.
A child should be given not only proper care and protection to ensure his or her physical needs are fulfilled, but they should be also provided an environment that could fulfill emotional needs as well. A child deprived of emotional needs —whether at the parental home or in an orphanage — falls prey to emotional disorder in the later stages of life.
As far as Kashmir’s orphanages are concerned, as per my observation, many of them fail to provide the required attention to the emotional needs of the children. For example, I know a child whose parents had been divorced, and the child fell prey to the unconducive environment of an orphanage in the Valley. Since he was deprived of his emotional needs, he became unruly and overwhelmingly emotional with the passage of time. Finally, the poor guy got involved in drug addiction and became unfit for the society. The kids with such background require more attention, which orphanages normally fail to provide.
Since we have a number of orphans here in Kashmir, we should have a better system and mechanism to deal with these vulnerable children. I would suggest that government should provide proper training to the managers of the orphanages to ensure they are aware of child psychology and capable enough to deal with them. Also, every orphanage should have at least one psychological counselor to look after the children.
Since I have been working for the child rights for a quite long time, and I am aware of the culture of child rights violations in our society. I was neither shocked nor surprised by the news that someone has been caught on camera trying to sell Kashmiri orphans in Delhi.
Sadly, we have developed a culture of denial when it comes to child rights in our society. If you ask me, I will tell you what kind of child abuses have become a norm in our society. We are doing all types of abuses to our child populations here, and unfortunately, most of the cases are never reported.
Now, since a case of the orphan sale has come to the fore, the concerned government agencies have suddenly become active. But the question should be asked: why were they inactive earlier and why have they been caught unawares?
In my view, the childcare institutions that are supposed to ensure the safety and protection of the children have failed in their mandated job. They are not even able to explain why there has been a mushroom growth of NGOs and orphanages here. As per the official records, we have 6000 registered NGOs in J&K. Even if only five percent of them are running in the name of child rights, that means we have hundreds of NGOs claiming to be working for child rights. What are they doing? All this needs to be investigated.
Then we have more than a 1000 societies registered here. Again, some of them are claiming to be working for the children. Are they?
Above all, what are the concerned government departments and agencies doing? I don’t deny that some of these NGOs and agencies might be doing well and serving their cause. But there needs to be some checks and balances in place. NGOs, orphanages or societies cannot and should not be trusted blindly. There are many instances where caregivers have been found indulging in criminal activities in the past. Take for example, ‘Muzaffarpur Shelter Home Rape Case’: This shelter home ran under an NGO until cases of sexual abuse, rape, and torture were reported, and sexual abuse of 34 out of 42 inmates living at the shelter was confirmed there in 2018.
That is why I insist all the NGOs and orphanages should be under a strict vigil. Thankfully, we have sufficient laws in place here to ensure checks. But these laws are not properly implemented. For example, the Supreme Court guidelines say that there should be CCTV cameras installed in every orphanage, but we find many of them do not follow this guideline in Kashmir. Likewise, there should be complaint boxes available in every orphanage. Do they have it?
Similarly, we have the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, in place here. This Act provides all the required rules, regulations, and the guidelines to ensure the safety, protection, and well-being of children. This system holds beautiful methods. Even there is provision for legal adoption under this law. However, the law is not properly implemented on the ground.
Furthermore, I would say that we do not need a mushroom growth of orphanages here. Orphanage should be the last resort for the care and protection of a vulnerable child. Instead of orphanages, we should encourage foster care, in which a designated mother (foster mother) takes care of up to 10 children under the watch of the authorities. These foster homes look like families.
To conclude, I would say that the recent revelation about the sale of orphans has provided us with an opportunity to deal with the problem. All of us — the civil society, stakeholders, and the child-care institutions — should shoulder the responsibility and ensure our kids, whether in orphanages or in their parental homes, are safe, protected, and taken care of.
I have always been critical about the ‘orphanage business’ in Kashmir. Time and again, I have been talking about the vulnerability of the children living in these orphanages. It is a matter of record that I have been hinting, rather saying that our kids, particularly the girls, in orphanages are not safe and protected. Please Google out what I have been saying all these years. Go through one of my interviews with ‘India Today’, which I gave many years ago, and you will find me hinting that children are being sold by the orphanage managers.
However, nobody paid heed to my suggestions at that time. There might be some exceptions, but mostly orphanages are being run in violation of the relevant rules and regulations. Even some of them are not registered with the concerned departments. The children in these orphanages are most vulnerable. Some children in the orphanages have no one to enquire about them, and nobody knows what they face there.
In 2010–11, I raised the issue of some particular orphanages where children faced inadequate and unconducive environment. I strongly raised objections in front of the authorities about these orphanages and ensured they are closed down.
My work in the society informs me that it is not just a matter related to the post-Covid situation. Our girls who are grappling with poverty and lacking caregivers are more exposed to exploitation. For instance, over the years I have got several massages from outside J&K with quires asking if there is any Kashmiri girl available to be married outside. I can show you the screenshots of these messages. Every time I responded to these messages saying that we do not manage marriages for Kashmiri girls outside Kashmir.
Apparently, the managers of the orphanages might have been getting similar massages. Are we sure that none of the girls have fallen prey to these massages? In view of the recent revelations about the sale of orphans, the matter needs to be probed thoroughly. I am sure many more skeletons would come out.
On the basis of my experience, I can tell you that everything is not Okay with our orphanages here. Some children might have been sold in the name of adoption by these orphanages during all these years. Today, we have got some evidence about the sale of orphans in the Delhi market. But it does not mean anything of that kind has not happened so far.
I realize that I might be in trouble by saying all this. But I don’t give a damn about the critics, because I am telling the truth, and truth needs to be told. Facing the truth would help us to ensure exploitation of the orphans is stopped.
Since I am working on community-based rehabilitation, my idea is that an orphan should not be brought up in an orphanage. Orphans should be kept in their ancestral villages, and society should bear the responsibility for their well-being. Why do we need plenty of orphanages here? We, as a society, need to shoulder the responsibility of the orphans and ensure the orphanage business is ended here. Why can’t we ensure help to the orphans while keeping them in their native places?
I say this because these orphanages have become businesses and the poor children commodities for the orphanage managers. They sell their miseries and sufferings, if not their physical bodies. I remember, once I visited an orphanage where one of the managers while giving me the details said, “as of now, we have 20 kids here, but with the passage of time, there will be more, Insha Allah!” I was shocked while listening to his nonsensical utterance.
Lest I forget to tell you that the children living in orphanages face psychological problems as well. Some years ago, we, with the support of mental health professionals, did a survey and found that 65 percent of children in orphanages are suffering from ‘separation anxiety’. Since then I have been suggesting that orphans should be kept in their ancestral places (homes), and, we as a society should shoulder the responsibility for their well-being. Kashmiris have enough money to ensure this.