In the first ever incident of its kind the state of Uttar Pradesh is struggling with its growing disabled population. As grim as that sounds the fact remains that a single seven year old blind and deaf destitute child has become a huge challenge for not only the government of UP but its citizen's at large as well.
Consider the case of a blind and deaf destitute child Rinku who was abandoned on the railway station at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in 2007. The child was picked up a local NGO and brought to the Chattrapatti Sahuji Maharaj Medical University (CSMMU) in Lucknow for treatment for chest congestion. The welfare of the child was not followed up by the NGO thereon.
Following completion of the treatment the child was discharged but there was no one to take his responsibility. After which he was left to fend for himself as no NGO in the city including the one that rescued him came forward to take the child under their care.
For eight months the child continued to live on the footpath of the Paediatric Department at CSMMU while the hospital administration and a social activist working with terminally ill children kept writing and requesting private and state agencies involved in care and protection of the child to take his responsibility and provide him proper shelter and training at the blind school.
But no one came forward and the child continued to be on the footpath. The social welfare commissioner in Lucknow was approached and requested for admitting the child to Sparsh Blind School in Mohan Road in Lucknow. A letter was issued by the Commissioner to the Principal of Blind School Omkar Nath Shukla and the child was given admission in Class One.
On the condition that a guardian be provided to take the child home during holidays. Conditions were fulfilled and guardianship for the child arranged for to help facilitate the admission of the child by Saaksham Foundation, an organization working for protection of child rights.
But when the Blind School was approached after fulfilling the conditions they refused to admit the child asking that the NGO go to court and legally adopt the child first if they wanted to admit the child.
The case was then brought before the Child Welfare Committee in Lucknow on 3 February 2009. The five member committee ruled in favour of the child and instructed the Blind School to give the child admission as all the procedures were fulfilled. The order was then produced to the Blind School.
In complete defiance of the order the principal flatly refused to accept the child stating he did not recognise the authority of the CWC. He again placed the condition before the Saaksham Foundation that they have to go to court and legally adopt the child.
The matter was brought to the notice of the CWC members on 4th Feb 2009. The five member committee in a well meaning move then instructed handing over the child Rinku to Child Line Lucknow from where he was to be sent to an orphanage for normal children at Mohan Road.
This again meant that the child was denied his right to get admission to a school that would benefit him and give him proper care and protection, especially in view of the fact that the state lacks a special home for children with multi disability.
But Rinku is not the only child who raises a question mark when it comes to rehabilitation, care and protection of children suffering from multi-disabilities and abandoned by their families due to it.
As per data available between 2007-2008 with Child Line Lucknow, out of the 27 new born abandoned children, 21 were females and handicapped either mentally or physically. While out of 19 boys abandoned, 10 were handicapped and out the total 50 found abandoned in one year 31 were handicapped and females. The numbers though are on the rise even now.
Informs Dharamendra Singh Chauhan, a para professional at ChildLine Lucknow who has conducted many such rescues, "The problem of rehabilitation and care and protection of handicapped and destitute children is a huge one. Specially when in the absence of a home dedicated just for such children with special needs. No NGO or government home is ready to take the children we rescue if they have a disability and if they suffer from multi-disability the rejection from these homes is a surety. Most institutions plead lack of expertise and specially trained staff to care for these children and turn them away. The worst resistance is faced from NGOs and government run Bal Grihas and orphanages when we have to place mentally challenged children with them."
Quoting a recent example, Chauhan says, "Recently an 11 years old mentally challenged child was brought to child line. He had been abandoned at a residential colony in Lucknow. We produced him before the five member bench of the Child Welfare Committee UP who ordered for the child to be sent to government run home at Rajikiya Bal Griha for boys at Mohan Road. Orders were complied with and we took the child there but the Director refused to admit the child and turned us away. We had no option but to bring the child back to child line and he is still staying at the call helpline centre which doesn’t have adequate facilities to care for him and his condition is indeed pathetic."
As is the state of another two year blind old girl also abandoned on the streets of a market place. She too has no takers either at the state run orphanages or shelters run by NGOs. And this despite the state government sanctioning a monetary help of Rs 850 for ever child that is housed at its state run orphanages.
With the numbers of children with multi-disability being abandoned on the rise in UP the lack of any home or orphanage to house them the situation is indeed worrisome.
Says Sapna Upadhyaya, a social activist with sick and abandoned children at CSMMU, "The option to place girls with multi-disabilities is also non-existent in UP. Though some are sent to the government run Rajkiya Bal Griha for girls at Motinagar, the condition is horrifying as no special care is available for them and neither are they segregated from the normal children. The effect it has on underage girls is emotionally very troubling, thus a separate facility with specialized care is of utmost importance for such children."
This is something that the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) has been asking the government for years now.
Avers Dr Brigeetha VV, Chairman, CWC, "It is very unfortunate that there is no option for such children. Despite 10% of the population of the city having such special children no effort has been made up to now to provide an option for destitute children who are also suffering from multi disabilities like deafness, blindness, mental retardation etc. Every time such a child is brought before the committee it is a huge challenge for us to find a place to send them to. But Following Rinku's case which is the worst ever brought before us we have decided enough is enough. The committee will be meeting with some government officials soon and seeking to set up a home for such children. For years now we have been asking the government to provide us a building to run as a home for such children and even suggested to give the staff trained to care for them a pay scale grade higher than the staff at orphanages for normal children but government has not responded."
Sadhna Mehrotra, also a member of the CWC committee and Secretary Laxmi, Women and Child Welfare Organisation, feels,"NGOs have no right to refuse a destitute child shelter. They have set up organisations to work for such children, yet we have seen in Rinku's case that making the disabilities he is suffering from an excuse every NGO that CSMMU administration contacted refused to accept the child forcing him to live on the footpath in CSMMU for eight months which is inhuman. There are many children like him who are suffering like this so CWC has decided to take concrete steps to urge the state government to set up a home for such children and staff it with teachers and care givers with trained to take of such children with special needs."
But will it work?
Says A Singh, Director, Saaksham Foundation, a local NGO that is campaigning for protection of child rights in Lucknow, "When it comes to fighting for legal rights of such children as per the Juvenile Justice Act 2006 (Care and Protection) the scenario is shameful in UP. Most NGOs, police and related agencies don't even know the proper procedure of getting these acts implemented. The apathetic attitude of the government makes it even more difficult to get these children their right to care and protection despite all the laws being in place."
Augustine Veliath, Communication Specialist, UNICEF, Lucknow, commenting on their stand on the attitude towards special children in the state said, "How long are we supposed to be duty bearers because of the excuse of not having specialized care. If the skills are non-existent to care for special children with multi-disabilities then the state government should now launch a programme to provide to find out where such training is available and how to get it. It is the right of a child to get inclusive protection without any discrimination. Special children have a right to go to normal schools and live as part of the normal community and whenever we come face to face with such children in the society it gives us an opportunity to make them a part of the community. For which specialised skills to do that needs to be acquired."
But who will help do that is the question to be reckoned.
(The author is a senior journalist based in Lucknow, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)