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Sunday, 25 October 2015

Mentally-challenged Poor Children Suffer in TN

There are over 60,000 differently abled children below the age of six in Tamil Nadu, according to the 2011 census. Nearly 7000 children in the same age group are mentally challenged and at least one per cent is believed to be destitute. All of them fall under the category of children with special needs. Despite the huge number, there is no government-run home for such children.

"The number of destitute and mentally challenged children below 18 years is much higher. Despite our repeated requests to the Social Defence and Social Welfare departments, nothing has been done to take care of the sorrowful plight of these children," said Chezhian Ramu, former Vellore district Child Welfare Committee chairperson.

According to Section 2 (d) of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000, a child in need of care and protection also includes a child who is mentally or physically challenged or suffering from terminal or incurable disease with none to support.

Rule 47 of the model rules for management of juvenile and special homes stipulates that every state government should run at least one home for a cluster of closely located districts for the destitute mentally challenged and children with multiple disabilities.

These homes should have comprehensive care and rehabilitation centre involving the local communities, NGOs and should include specialized services with inputs from experts or academic institutions. Despite the stipulation, activists say the state government has not opened a single home so far.

However, there are three government-aided homes run by NGOs - Bala Vihar and Arunodayam in Chennai and Arivagam in Mayiladuthurai - which care for both mentally and physically challenged children.

Arunodayam is a reception home where children are kept only temporarily and Bala Vihar, according to activists, has stopped taking in children referred by the government.

So the only home that is still admitting mentally-challenged destitute children is Arivagam, Mayiladuthurai. But this home is battling with a large number of children and scanty resources.

"We now have 228 children, including the hearing and visually impaired, physically and mentally challenged. Our capacity is 100 and 83 of them are bedridden and require attention of doctors. They need periodic medical tests and treatment. We do not have sufficient aid to provide, so we shell out money from our pockets and take them for treatment," said M Gnanasambandam, superintendent, Arivagam Children's Home, Arivagam After Care Organisation, Mayiladuthurai.

He added that many children either run away or go on leave with their families without returning or die a silent death without proper medical care.

"What else can we do. I still admit children with special needs. But what happens after that becomes questionable, as we do not have the required staff and facilities which deprive these children the services needed for their survival and rehabilitation," he added.

The plight of Arivagam and other NGOs and the need for a state-run home was also pointed out in the Comptroller and Auditor General Report, 2008. However, activists claim that the situation remains unchanged till date.
"How is it possible for three NGOs to take in all mentally challenged children from the whole of Tamil Nadu," questioned Chandra Thanikachalam, vice-president, Indian Council for Child Welfare.

"The absence of more such homes force these children to face a lot of trouble in getting admission and their guardians also face difficulties visiting these homes from different parts of the state. We need a different setup and approach for these children. While the state has been progressing in other areas, I hope something concrete comes up in this too," Thanikachalam said.

Source : The New Indian Express , 22nd Oct 2015

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