BY Rajiva Wijesinha
A few months back, at the suggestion of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, we arranged consultations on Human Rights at the Reconciliation Office. The invitees were a number of governmental and non-governmental agencies that had significant roles or interests, and the discussions proved extremely productive.
This preparation was helpful when the Minister in charge of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the National Human Rights Action Plan appointed me to convene the Task Force he established to expedite activity in this regard. Though we have no powers, the discussions we held have shown both the keenness of most government institution to move forward, and the need for better coordination to ensure productive action.
Meanwhile we continued with informal consultations so as to get maximum input from the non-governmental sector too. But partnership with relevant government agencies is however essential to promote both understanding and action, and I have been deeply impressed by the systematic way in which several agencies have laid out current positions and steps they are taking to improve the services available.
Most recently the Department of Probation gave an excellent presentation on Children’s Homes, with regard to which problems have arisen in recent years. These arise from over-crowding, the lack of supervision, the absence of clear criteria about allocating children to such homes and the tendency to use them not as a temporary measure but rather as a house of permanent incarceration.
19,000 in homes
Currently there are about 19,000 children in homes all over the country, about half of whom have two living parents. Another third have one parent, and it is only 20% who have no parents or parents with regard to whom there are security problems. Homes are now commonly used to deal with destitution, which goes against all acceptable principles of child care.
These and other problems were discussed at the consultation. I will begin here however, in what I hope will be a regular forum to discuss the Care of Children, with the presentation by the Department.
> Voluntary Children Homes, are run by Non-governmental organizations, under state supervision. These homes are registered as per provisions under Orphanage Ordinance
> The following activities are performed with state direct intervention.
* Registration of children’s Homes
* Admitting Children to these Homes
* Supervision of Children’s’ Homes
* Advisory work regarding running of these Homes
* Amendments to relevant rules and regulations from time to time
> Children are referred to these Homes for a maximum period of 3 years. Necessary arrangements have to made within 3 years to send back the child to his/her family. There is a placement committee in each Home. All those who take decisions about children including parents, and guardians should participate in this committee.
> Since some problems have cropped up regarding integration of institutionalized children to society in the recent past, the case management system has been introduced for integration. Case management guide lines have been introduced and all the officers have been given training. Training programmes are due to be held in 3 more provinces. Full particulars regarding institutionalized children have to be furnished as per case management Guide Lines.
> All the officers engaged in Children’s work have to adopt the Multi- Disciplinary approach in re- integrating children and also do ‘a follow up’ about children after re-integration. Case management system was introduced in 2010. No evaluation about it has been done as yet. Hence it is not possible to say whether it is a success or not. However, there are many difficulties faced in integrating children because there are many practical difficulties in families of these children.
> Similarly, steps have been taken to effect amendments to Orphans Ordinance. It is in the last stage (the approval of the Ministry of justice to be obtained). In view of shortcomings it is envisaged to amend the Orphanages Ordinance as follows
The period of validity of a registration to be 3 years. Under the current law, registration is valid for ever.
Separate bank account for the Home. This clause has been embodied to make it more transparent.
Provincial Commissioner shall appoint a person or persons to be or to act as an Inspector. The duties and the responsibilities of such inspector should be given by the Provincial Commissioner
Board of Management
Each and every orphanage should have a Board of Management, which consists of not less than 5 persons. The board of Management of each Home should nominate a person as the manager.
The Manager and the inspector who is assigned for the supervision of the Orphanage should organize the Placement Committee Meeting .
There are instances when children not suitable to be institutionalized are institutionalized. Therefore this amendment should be implemented to prevent such situations: child to be admitted to a home, to be first assessed by the Provincial Commissioner or an appointed person.(There are 3 ways a child could reach a home, Through DPCCS, by Courts and Police, Private arrangements with home Concerned . Only Orphan and abandoned children are to be admitted to homes. With Private arrangements even destitute children can be sent to home. This could be avoided if a PO could assess option)
Under the current law homes are supposed to furnish returns in the prescribed form annually.(only administrative aspects) Under the new law returns means the administrative aspects as well as particulars with regard to the welfare and protection of children in the home.
> Under the current law, there are penalties for the following:
Functioning a home without a registration
Supplying false information under the ordinance
Resisting or obstructing officers acting under the Ordinance
Current penalty applicable to all offences equally ( A fine not exceeding Rs.500 and a prison term not exceeding 3 months.)
> It is under this non specific offence the violations of the Minimum Standards are embodied in. Penalties must correspond to the gravity of the offence. Therefore the following scheme has introduced.
Functioning a home without a registration-imprisonment of not less than 2 years and not more than 5 years. fine less than hundred thousand of rupees.
Supplying false information under the ordinance – Rs.25000 fine or Maximum of 5 years imprisonment.
Resisting or obstructing officers acting under the Ordinance- Maximum period of five years and for a fine not less than Rs.75,000
> Supervision- Currently supervision is done by the Provincial DPCCS. In addition to that, Citizen committees have been set up at the Divisional Secretariat level not to supervise the Probation Officer but merely to investigate the administration of home and the welfare of children there in.
> Steps taken to minimize institutionalization of children and re-integration of them to society.
It is due to introduce an Alternative Care Policy as early as possible so as to minimize institutionalization of children.
The current alternative care system is not properly implemented.
A Foster Parent system is due to be introduced . The preliminary steps necessary for such a system are under review.
System related to re-integration of children to society has been identified eg:. Steps are being taken to strengthen families , supervision of children at the risk for institutionalization.
(Courtesy of The Island)