In January this year, residents of Devenandapur, a village in Hooghly, West Bengal, found an 11 years old girl hiding near a basement. If anyone so much as approached her, the girl screamed. As a crowd gathered, someone contacted the NGO Praajak, a CRY partner.
Little by little, the story tumbled out of the frightened child. My name is Moina ,
she said. I ran away from home because my mother and father beat me and force me to wash and clean, cook and run errands – pretty much everything they need done in the house.
This was not the first time Moina had run away from her abusive family.
It was obvious to Praajak’s staff that Moina was suffering from sever trauma, both physically and mentally. Based on meticulous fact-finding, the team found out that Moina’s abuse began almost as soon as she was adopted from a children’s home by her parents five years ago. Besides being made to do adult chores from the age of six, the child was beaten and verbally abused regularly. Since she ran away some months back, the parents had started locking the house (with the child in) whenever they went out. “Abusive caregivers often try to block any social life that the child may develop, to protect themselves. In Moina’s case, she was never enrolled in school and not allowed to play outside the house or make friends,” says Satya Gopal Dey from CRY.
Another fact brought to light was that the local police station had not bothered to file a charge, even after local residents brought Moina’s plight to their notice last year. Residents said the most probable reason for this would be a disinclination to “meddle in family affairs”. Without any training on how to look out for child abuse, the Police simply did not know any better, nor were they willing to find out more.
The local residents, in the meantime, incensed by this apathy at the plight of a child, joined Praajak in a meeting, at which they collected signatures on a petition to the Child Welfare Committee, the body that was supposed to have approved the legal adoption of the little girl.
Based on this, Praajak filed a formal F.I.R at the local Chinsurah police station, under Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and Section 323 of the I.P.C
The police arrested Moina’s father and produced him before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Chinsurah Court. Moina was rescued from her home and deputed to be kept under the safe custody of Uttarpara Female Destitute Home, Hooghly, by order of Child Welfare Committee.
In a first of its kind, the C.J.M ordered the police to produce the child before the Child Welfare Committee, Hooghly as per the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Praajak lodged a formal complaint against such a step, citing the criminalisation of the victim as an outright violation of her rights.
In another twist, Praajak’s investigations found that Moina’s adoptive parents had not really adopted her at all. They had only been given temporary custody of the child. The team immediately informed the Police about this. They also filed a petition before the Hooghly CJM, demanding an enquiry into the whole matter: how was a couple able to keep a child with them without adopting her legally for as long a period as six years? Praajak’s complaint petition was dismissed by the CJM, prompting the organisation to upscale their protest – by lodging the similar complaint to a higher court.
Meanwhile, Moina has been enrolled in a school inside the Home she is staying in. She has been enrolled in Class 1 and is at last seeing some of the rights that childhood entails – such as being cared for and going to school.
The fight continues, as CRY and its partners take a closer look at adoption procedures, at the accountability of the legal and bureaucratic systems that are responsible for children’s lives and their security. “We will not allow child abuse to continue,” says Arijit Adhikary from Praajak, one of the activists instrumental in making sure Moina got justice.
(Name changed to protect identity of the child)