Even as the TN Budget for 2020-21 projected that a new State Child Policy will be envisaged and that the children in the orphanages ‘will be given the best possible start in life’, the physical state of the only two government-run orphanages in Chennai leaves much to be desired, with very little attention to the mental state of the inmates
The State-run orphanages, which were established under the Sathya Ammaiyar Ninaivu Government Orphanages Scheme, falls under the Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme Department and aims at providing accommodation and other basic amenities, including education, uniform, free textbooks, medical facilities and bedding for children. These orphanages provide a home to orphans, deserted, destitute and abandoned children including kids without parents or with a single parent. The children of ailing parents, prisoners, and of parents whose annual income is not more than Rs 12,000 are eligible to be admitted to these orphanages. However, the scheme regulates that only girls between five and 21 years of age and boys up to Class-5 will be given admission to these facilities.
While there are about 1,500 abandoned children and more than 5,000 orphans across the State, only 2,300 of them are being benefitted through the Sathya Ammaiyar Ninaivu Government Orphanages in the State. Also, there are only 28 government-run orphanages across the State. While 19 districts have one orphanage each, and four districts two each, 14 districts are left out without even a single orphanage. Tiruvallur, Perambalur, Villupuram, Krishnagiri, Tiruppur, Ariyalur, Karur, Theni, Tiruvarur, Thirupathur, Ranipet, Chengalpettu, Kallakurichi and Tenkasi are the districts that do not have any government-run orphanage.
In Chennai, of the two orphanages — one each for boys and girls — that are operating under the Directorate of Social Defence, the condition of the Government Children Home for Girls in Purusaiwalkam is among the worst in the State. The dilapidated entrance board only leads to old rooms, the condition of which is depressing at best. There is no concept of hygiene, with the rooms badly maintained and too little a space for shared bedding. As per the guidelines, the homes for girls should be run only by women wardens and women personnel but the four security personnel who were deployed at the entrance were all men. Also, the pathway from the entrance of the directorate to the orphanage is deserted and a group of non-inmates could be seen smoking inside the premises.
The superintendents at the children’s home for girls say most of the girls at the orphanage are from an impoverished background and of single parents. “More than 70 per cent of girls are below the age of 18. However, more girls have joined the institution after the government relaxed the age limit for educational aid to 21. However, with the mushrooming of private orphanages, the dependency on the government-run orphanages is on a downtrend,” a superintendent said on condition of anonymity.
The Government Children’s Home for Boys in Royapuram is the only government-run orphanage for boys in the city, with about 60 per cent of them aged below 10. Until recently, the boys’ home was operating in a building that was in such a bad condition that it collapsed eventually. Cleanliness, hygiene and lack of adequate space are a concern in this building too, but slightly better than the girl’s home as it has been recently constructed.
Sources at the hostel said that only after portions of the old building had collapsed, the Directorate of Social Defence decided to construct a new building for the Royapuram boys’ home. “The new building is only partly available for the children, as the construction work is yet to be over,” a staffer pointed out. As of now, around 100 boys live in the home and are monitored by the superintendents.
One of the key concerns in these orphanages is the mental health of the inmates, which is a neglected area. As per a recent study on the condition of children in orphanages in Tamil Nadu, the mental and physical health of the children in orphanages is affected due to multiple issues such as the divorce of parents, poverty, AIDS, physical and mental disability, the indifference of the society, and growing number of unmarried mothers.
However, these orphanages lack any counselling services to provide them guidance and emotional support. “Many of these children suffer from distress, lack of parental nurturing, loneliness and self-esteem issues and do not get enough emotional support and opportunities. We are trying to provide them basic amenities and there are measures taken to reunite them with families,” said S Madhumathi, an official from the Directorate of Social Defence from the Department of Social Welfare.
Sheela Jeyanthi, a member of the Tamil Nadu Commission for the protection of Child Rights said that the State Child Policy, that is being worked upon, will also ponder over the need for additional facilities and services at the government-run orphanages. “We are considering to hold discussions with these children in the orphanages and stakeholders on the same. The child policy is being discussed with the government officials and Social Welfare department to bring out the final draft,” she added.
The State government had allotted Rs 175.35 crore for the Directorate of Social Defence in the recent State Budget, but the sources from the directorate said that there are no plans for expansion of the orphanages and each district will get only about Rs 15 lakh, which will be mainly for the maintenance of each centre. There are about 100 private-run orphanages across the city, but the Directorate of Social Defence does not keep records of the facilities provided in these orphanages, said an official.
Officials from the Department of Social Welfare, that is responsible for ensuring facilities and accessibility of the orphanages to the destitute children, denied any plans for increasing the number of orphanages in the city. “The private orphanages cannot be compared to the government-run orphanages as the children coming to the government orphanages are from lower-income families when compared to private-run orphanages. If the government proposes to add additional facilities and number of orphanages in the State after accessing the demand, we will welcome it,” said S Sundari, joint director, Department of Social Welfare.