Mumbai: The Maharashtra government has issued a circular to all district offices of Child Welfare Committee with suggestions and guidelines on checking sexual and physical abuse of minor inmates in shelter homes.
This was informed to the Bombay High Court by Advocate General Darius Khambata earlier this week during the hearing of a suo moto PIL on a news report, which highlighted alleged sexual abuse of 35 girl inmates in a Nashik shelter home.
The issue came to notice in April after the inmates sent a letter to NGO Childline alleging sexual and physical harassment by a trustee and four other male employees.
"A circular has been issued to all district offices of the CWC regarding modalities on how such children shelter homes should be conducted and the role of CWCs. A district- wise committee shall also be formed which will conduct surprise inspection on shelter homes," Khambata said.
The committee, apart from overseeing the condition of the shelter home, shall also interact with each inmate individually, he said, adding, "the committee shall submit its findings to the district child protection unit."
The circular also mentions suggestions such as male and female inmates should be kept separately, girl children shall be looked after by female staff only and a complaint box shall be kept in the home where inmates can drop their complaints anonymously.
A division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice M S Sanklecha, however, observed that the complaint box would not evoke much confidence if it is kept inside the shelter home`s manager or trustee`s room. "If so then the inmate`s identity would be revealed," Chief Justice Shah said.
The court also suggested the government to take help of NGO workers while interviewing minor inmates. "Your (government) officers may go to the shelter home like inspector figures and the minor children might not be very comfortable in opening up to someone like that," the Chief Justice said.
Khambata then said that the government was trying to sensitise its officials while handling such cases. The court has asked advocate Subhada Khot, appointed to assist the court in the matter, to look into the circular and inform the court if she has any further suggestions.
The matter has been kept for hearing on July 11. Khambata also informed the court that a charge sheet has been filed against the accused in the Nashik shelter home abuse case.
In its last hearing, the High Court had cancelled the bail granted to four of the shelter employees including a 72-year-old watchman. It had observed that the best interest of the minor victims has to be ensured.