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Unlockdown: Children in custodial care institutions hopeful of repatriation, reunion with families

Counsellors and home officials who interact with the children say that initially when they were told about Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown, many refused to believe the outside world had changed so much and that there were severe restrictions on movement.

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai | Updated: September 23, 2020 11:40:35 am
Mumbai custodial care institutions, Mumbai custodial care institutions children, mumbai covid, mumbai covid unlock, indian express newsChildren at the Dongri home are kept busy with various activities. (Credit: Aashiyana)

The phased ‘unlockdown’ has raised hopes among children lodged in custodial care institutions in the city, who are awaiting repatriation to their home countries or reunion with their families in other states.

At the Children Aid Society’s home in Dongri, 36 children are awaiting reunion with their families since March, held up by delayed procedures, limited trains and permissions from their states. The home also has four children from other countries, including Nepal and Bangladesh, awaiting travel permits to return.

Counsellors and home officials who interact with the children say that initially when they were told about Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown, many refused to believe the outside world had changed so much and that there were severe restrictions on movement, including suspension of all forms of transport. Officials then made them watch news on TV so they could understand what the situation was beyond the high walls of the home. “Now, when they see that trains have resumed functioning and many restrictions have been eased, their questions have increased. It has been a difficult time for them, they are in a lockdown within a lockdown,” says Diana Quadros, a counsellor at the home.

Usually, after a child is rescued either from public places — lost or who have escaped from their homes — or from workplaces, where they are employed illegally as child labour, they are brought to the home and produced before the district Child Welfare Committee as per the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act. Following this, the CWC after due inquiry orders for the child to be reintegrated with his/her family. Officials say three police personnel, including a woman officer from the police station in whose jurisdiction the child was rescued, escort the child back to the home state.

Vijay Doiphode, member of the Mumbai Child Welfare Committee, says while police officials have shown willingness to escort the children back home, their difficulty is lack of trains beyond major cities. “Train services have not resumed fully. Police officials have told us arranging private vehicles is not possible due to the high cost,” he says.

Home officials say the delay is affecting them. “During the lockdown, some parents came to the city in hired vehicles to take back their children. Many told us they do not have the financial capability to come to the city. We arrange regular phone calls of the children with their parents but the delay is affecting them,” said Rahul Kanthikar, superintendent of the Dongri home.

Suresh Kumar, executive director, Centre DIRECT, a Bihar-based organisation fighting against child labour, says the responsibility lies with the district child protection units as per the JJ Act.

“The initiative to streamline this should be done by the states and central government to ensure the children are not made to suffer like this,” Kumar says.

Apart from children from other states, inter-country repatriation has also been delayed. While usually the process of repatriation takes place within three months, a 17-year-old, lodged at the home since March 21, is still awaiting a travel permit so that police officials can escort him to the country’s border.

Sachi Maniar, director of Aashiyana, which works with children at the home, says she has been coordinating with the authorities, including officials in Bangladesh, with submissions of the 17-year old’s school marksheets but the process has remained slow. Sources at the consulate claimed the process of confirming the address of the children is underway.

“The children now ask us that migrant workers too were permitted to go, transport has begun so why the delay,” she says.

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