Six children’s schools-cum-orphanages have been closed in the Kashmir valley in the last few months owing to a lack of proper facilities. In Kashmir, these orphanages and seminaries are mostly run by religious people. The Juvenile Justice Act lays down some of the rules for the functioning of these orphanages and their inmates include juvenile delinquents, while some children come from single-parent families who send them to these homes for the free meals and education.
The six orphanages that have closed since April are:
– Alamdar Welfare Trust in Barbarshah, Srinagar
– Al Muzamil in Lawaypora, Srinagar
– Babul ul Quran in Rajbagh, Srinagar
– Ansar ul Masakeen in Baghat Kanipora, Budgam
– Al-Noor Ibrahim Welfare Trust & Yateem Khana in Baramulla
– Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya School in Kupwara
A children’s activist, who wished to remain anonymous, told Newslaundry that sexual misconduct was one of the main reasons for the closure of the orphanage at Rajbagh. He said sodomy and corporal punishment are common practices at orphanages in Kashmir.
Newslaundry took a closer look.
Two orphanages have been closed in Srinagar while a third was partially closed by Child Welfare Committee (CWC) authorities. In all the three cases, it was the locals who complained about the ongoings in these orphanages.
Alamdar Welfare Trust in Barbarshah, Srinagar, operated out of two rooms where 26 children lived. CWC member Srinagar Farooq Ahmed Khan told Newslaundry, “The rooms were in a dilapidated condition. We sent 14 children back to their families while 12 were shifted to Sheikh-ul-Aalam orphanage. The children who were sent back to their homes were given a sponsorship of ₹2,000.”
Al Muzamil Orphanage in Lawaypora, Srinagar, had 21 children. The chairperson of this orphanage is Muhammad Iqbal. Khan said, “The main issue here was that the 21 children, including 12 boys and nine girls, were sleeping in the same room. It was a major concern for all of us. All of them were teenagers. But there was no sexual misconduct in this case.”.
In Al Muzamil Orphanage, four out of the nine girls are from Reasi district of the state and belong to the Gujjar community. Khan said, “When we sent them back, their parents refused to take them. But after counselling, they were integrated back with their families.” Khan also said that children’s homes are “a big mafia”. “It is a money-minting business. These people start homes with only a few children to make money. As we are still in infancy, the monitoring by CWCs across the state is not up to the mark either.”
In July this year, about 22 girls were rescued from Babul ul Quran in Rajbagh, Srinagar. The girls were shifted to a government-run orphanage at Nishat, Srinagar. However, government officials said the orphanage was closed due to a lack of proper facilities. The inmates at this orphanage were from Machil area of Kupwara district.
A high-ranking official who led the inspection team told Newslaundry, on condition of anonymity, “There was no children’s school in Rajbagh. It was some nefarious chap trying to lure girls for flesh trade. We rescued 22 girls. I had to close it down.”
In Budgam district, CWC closed one orphanage/school named Ansar-ul-Masakeen, run by a woman called Afeeqa. There were 26 children here, including 17 girls. The raid on this orphanage was led by mission director and former director of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), GA Sofi, and members of CWC Srinagar and Budgam.
Khan says, “We rescued 17 girls from this school. The entire set-up (of the school) looked suspicious. When we reached there, the minor girls were doing makeup. All 17 girls are teenagers and all of them are in ICPS custody now. At present, counselling of all these girls are going on.”
Another member of the inspection team said there was no proper documentation for the girls. A proper register or registration process was not maintained either.
In Baramulla district, Al-Noor Ibrahim Welfare Trust & Yateem Khana children’s school in Pattan area was closed down by CWC Baramulla after the committee found it was not up to the standards set by the Juvenile Justice Act.
There were 36 children at the children’s school out of which 17 were girls. CWC Baramulla member Waseem Hassan Parray told Newslaundry, “All the children were kept in two rooms of roughly about 6 x 8 feet in size. Beneath the rooms was a slaughterhouse. The school was opened only to mint the money from various NGOs around the region.” The 17 girls had only four beds in a single room and only one toilet which was quite a distance from the room.
CWC Baramulla rescued the 17 girls and shifted them to Darul Muzaffar Baghi Islam children’s school in the old town of Baramulla district. The boys were shifted to Bait-ul-Mukarram orphanage in Pattan.
When asked if there was any guarantee for the safety of the girl children at the school they had been shifted to, Parray said, “This school at least provides the basic infrastructure which has been set by the Juvenile Justice Act.”
He added, “Our primary responsibility was to rescue and then find a suitable place for the girls. Had we kept them in the same school and not closed it down, there was every possibility that the girl children would have been exploited.” He also said the Act makes it clear that boys and girls should be separated.
The most striking thing, in this case, is that the now-closed establishment was near the police station in Pattan.
In the frontier district of Kupwara, CWC closed down the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) School. There were 40 girl children at this school and 11 staff members. The school was run in three rooms: two 10 x 10 feet rooms and one 10 x 5 feet room.
CWC Kupwara member, Azad Ahmed, said, “We went to the zonal educational officer and asked him to either relocate or close down the school. Finally, we decided to close it down. The 40 girls are from far-flung areas and were sent back to their respective homes.”
Money seems to be the factor which kept the school going undeterred for years. Ahmed said, “The staff were getting a night allowance and a meal allowance besides the residential allowance. Why would they have cared, or allowed the closing of the school? These KGBV schools are only on paper across the Valley.” He also asked how it was possible for 40 girls to live in only three rooms.
Child rights practitioner Owais Wani, who works in the development sector, said, “In some of the orphanages, the children, mostly girls, are sexually exploited by the caretakers. Unfortunately, being a conservative society, we have always tried to hide these things from society at large. It is even seen that sexual harassment among boys is also prevalent.”
He added that the children are also being used as an advertisement to collect money—which orphanage managers then use for their salaries. “This is a growing business, however not for all orphanages. Also, the community uses the children on pickets to collect money for the construction of mosques,” Wani told Newslaundry.
Mission director and former director of the ICPS, GA Sofi, talked about the crimes going on at some of the orphanages in Kashmir. He said, “We received complaints that the exploitation of the inmates was going on in some of the orphanages. If children are vulnerable at any orphanage, we have to close it down.”
Sofi also discusses the rules laid down by the Juvenile Justice Act for these orphanages. “The first rule was to register a child home. Then importantly, we have to check how many inmates and staff members are there and whether a particular orphanage has these basic necessities or not. However, most of the orphanage have failed in providing these things so we had to close them down.”
Officials at the social welfare department said more than 90 per cent of orphan children in Kashmir have a single parent, which is usually their mother(s). A child activist on condition of anonymity said, “It is the free meals and educations which most families seek in Kashmir. Single parents and their families often forget about the main requirement for a child—security.”
The only data available about the total number of orphans in the state is with the NGO Save The Children. Their study puts the number of orphans in the state at over two lakh. The study, titled Orphaned in Kashmir – The State of Orphans in Jammu and Kashmir, also says that out of two lakh orphans, only 20,000 find shelter in orphanages in the state.
However, Qurat Masoodi, chairperson of the NGO Aash: The Hope of Kashmir, says the data available with Save The Children is outdated. “Their data is over five years old. There must be over three lakh orphans in the state.”
Other programmes for children in Kashmir
Firdous Educational Trust for Orphans (FETO) is an organisation, established in 1994, which runs three separate programmes: for widows, for orphans, and an educational trust. FETO caters to 100 widows and has 210 students under their educational programme. The orphanage run by FETO is called Darul Manam.
FETO’s general secretary, Mohammad Saleem, told Newslaundry, “We established Darul Manam in 2004. Since then we have only around 30 orphans. We deliberately are not taking more children. It is better to have fewer children and provide them with everything, than have bulk with no or fewer facilities.”
Darul Manam provides the children with basic facilities like food, clothing and shelter. Saleem said, “They do go to school in the morning and come back by evening like other children do at their homes. Besides the normal school education, we also give them Quranic and Islamic education. We have around nine orphans who are Hifz (learn Quran by heart).”
Harris (name changed), a child at Darul Manam, is from the remote village of Kudara in Bandipora. He has lived at the orphanage for the past 11 years. He told this reporter, “We are being looked after and fed properly here. There is a proper heating system as well here. We also regularly go to school and get good education as well.”
When the reporter visited the orphanage in Batamaloo area of Srinagar, Harris and the other students were preparing for an examination.
Qurat Masoodi, the chairperson of the NGO Aash: The Hope of Kashmir, has been fighting against the establishment of orphanages in the Valley. She says, “We basically work on the mental health of the orphans. Around 65 per cent of the orphans are suffering from separation anxiety.”
Masoodi says Aash has adopted 32 children in Budgam district. “I was always against special schools. Ours is community-based rehabilitation. We try to empower single parents. There is no need to take a child away from his home and community. For stronger mental health, the children need to be with his parents.”
Emergence of the Juvenile Justice Act
The Parliament of India, with the intent to provide for the care, protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of neglected or delinquent juveniles and for the purpose of adjudicating matters related to delinquent juveniles, enacted the Juvenile Justice Act in 1986. When the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of a Child in 1989, India was one of the signatories and so the Act was accordingly reviewed and reconstituted as the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2000, and then amended again in 2006. This Act gives exclusive jurisdiction to the children’s court to try any matters pertaining to juvenile delinquents.
In 2014, Maneka Gandhi, minister for Women and Child Development, moved a bill in Parliament whereby the age of juveniles was reduced from 18 to 16. This was passed in 2015. Juveniles who committed heinous crimes would be tried as adults, and the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act 2015 thereby came into force on January 1, 2016.
Irfan Ahmed Sofi, the protection officer of Budgam who works under the ICPS, told Newslaundry that the Juvenile Justice Act is still at an infancy stage in Kashmir. “We are at a stage where we still are in the registration process of the orphanages across the state. As of now, we have seen that most of the orphanages that have spiked across the state lack basic infrastructure. The children’s care at these orphanages in very poor.”
Jammu & Kashmir also enacted the Juvenile Justice Law in 1997 (Act No. VIII of 1997) to meet the requirements of juvenile delinquents in the state. Under the State Act, the age of juveniles has been prescribed as below 16 years.
The call for raising the bar of age (which was 18 years for a girl, and 16 years for a boy) in the state gathered heat after the unrest of 2010, as the provisions of the 1997 Act were insufficient to meet present demands. So the Act of 1997 was repealed by the J&K Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2013 (Act No. VII of 2013). Now the age of a juvenile/child was defined as someone who has not completed 18 years of age.
It also defined “juvenile delinquents” as:
– A juvenile in conflict with the law but who has not attained the age of 18 years as on the date of the commission of the offence; and
– A child in need of care and protection
The Act envisages that a juvenile in conflict with the law—who is allegedly involved in a non-serious offence entailing a punishment of less than seven years—shall be sent to an observation home for reformation and rehabilitation, and shall be handed over immediately to the Child Welfare Officer in the nearest police station. The Act contains comprehensive safeguards and protections for each category of juvenile delinquents.
In recent times, Juvenile Justice Boards have also begun operating in Kashmir, with 22 being set up across the 22 districts of the state.
Meanwhile, the government has come up with a new draft, the Juvenile Justice Act, 2018, even as the implementation of the previous laws are still at an infantile stage, after years of delay. Section 77 of the new draft says, “Any adult or an adult group, if uses children for illegal activities either individually or as a gang shall be liable for rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine of ₹5 lakh.”
Importantly, the new draft also “proposed that the age for criminal liability be lowered to 16 years from the existing 18”. This means children on the wrong side of the law below the age of 18 will yet again be categorised with adult criminals.