Illegal Shelter homes threaten minors

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Whenever the country is hit by an economic crisis, news media starts brimming with reports of children abandoned by parents, inside garbage cans and at shrines, out of which only a lucky few end up in the custody of trusted orphanages or doting adoptive parents, the rest however, are left stranded at the mercy of wild stray dogs and illegal shelter homes.

In Punjab, several shelter homes are working at the government and non-government level for rearing abandoned, destitute and orphaned children yet no government agency has any record of the number of children who are living in these shelter homes or the background of these children since a large number of the sanctuaries are not registered with the Child Protection Bureau despite the legal requirement. As a result, the future of hundreds of children brought up in these shelter homes has become worrisome.

“It is surprising how a shelter home can keep children without any legal authority. Unfortunately, some people have used the work of providing shelter to children as a way to hide their earnings and ill-gotten wealth. It is the responsibility of the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau to register all institutions that provide shelter to children. SOPs should exist for shelter homes which give guidelines on how the children will be provided with accommodation, food, education and skills,” said Rashida Qureshi, a children’s rights activist and Program Coordinator of Search for Justice.

According to Sara Ahmed, Chairperson of the Child Protection Bureau, Clause 20A of the Destitute and Neglected Children Amendment Act of 2017 mandates the accommodation of abandoned, destitute and orphaned children in Punjab.

“It is necessary for the NGOs providing shelter to such children to register themselves with the Child Protection Bureau. We have sent notices to all orphanages and shelter homes working in Punjab for registration,” revealed Ahmed, who further added that so far only one organization has been registered with the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau.

According to a report obtained by the Express Tribune, so far only 30 NGOs or shelter homes out of a total of 52 have submitted their applications for registration to the Child Protection Bureau. Out of these, 27 applications were sent to the respective Deputy Commissioners for a No Objection Certificate but no response has been received yet. Similarly, notices have been sent to 19 NGOs and shelter homes, while the process of issuing licenses to two is pending.

A total of 76 institutions are currently providing shelter to children in Punjab, out of which 15 institutions are managed by the Social Welfare Department, nine institutions are managed by the Child Protection Bureau, while the remaining 52 are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which are providing accommodation, education and training to children.

It is worth recalling that the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau recently rescued 32 young children from an orphanage called Gharana Yateemkhana located in the Gajumatta area of Lahore. The children, 18 boys and 14 girls, were aged between three to 12 years. The orphanage has been sealed and the head has been arrested.

“We will take similar action against all such illegal shelter homes,” concluded Ahmed.

A large number of private dwellings for orphans are not registered with the Child Protection Bureau

Acknowledgement: Article published in the Express Tribune on 23 rd April 2024

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