- The sordid tale of exploitation at the girls’ shelter in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, is not a case of a rare systems failure, unfortunately. Abuse and exploitation, especially of women and children, in such shelters have been reported with depressing frequency. While those responsible must be prosecuted and punished to the law’s full extent, we need a robust system of oversight and accountability to prevent recurrence.
Multi-layered oversight system:
- A viable multi-layered oversight system involving the government, particularly the women and child departments in the states, and the district administration is required.
- The local community must be actively involved in these homes and shelters, to provide another level of continuous oversight.
- No shelter should operate without a licence.
- A charter of basic facilities and requirements must be developed and implemented, as part of the licence. Ideally, women should be tasked with running these homes and shelters.
- Thorough background checks of staff must be mandatory. Counsellors, doctors and nurses should have routine access, over and above regular inspections.
- The local administration must be made accountable for the proper running of these homes.
- Central to ensuring that these homes/shelters do not become centres of abuse is the involvement of the local community.
- Active linkages with local schools, women’s self-help groups, community businesses and colleges must be encouraged. These engagements will help create a web of informal oversight, which are likely to prove more effective than official supervision.
- Ensuring that vulnerable women and children are protected is central for a strong and progressive community. Protecting the vulnerable and penalising those who prey on them must be part of citizen sensibility.