Shelter homes for girls in India run by NGOs seem to be playgrounds for predators. Police on Sunday rescued 24 girls from one such centre in Deoria, Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Three people were arrested acting on complaints of sexual exploitation by the inmates, police said, adding that 18 inmates of the shelter are said to be missing.
The raid came weeks after a shocked nation heard how some 34 minor girls living in a shelter home in neighbouring Bihar state were starved, sedated and sexually exploited night after night by people, who ran the facility, as well as visitors.
Responding to the police raid, UP’s minister for women and child development Rita Bahuguna Joshi said the state government had revoked the recognition of the NGO, which ran the shelter home, and stopped funding it one year ago. Investigation will focus on how the shelter was still functioning and who was responsible for it.
Police got the tip-off after a 10-year-old inmate fled the facility and told an officer about the plight of inmates living there.
According to the escaped inmate from Bihar’s Bettiah city, private cars used to come in the evenings to pick up girls above 15 years of age. Next morning, the girls came back crying.
Girija Tripathi, who operated the shelter home along with her husband, Mohan Tripathi, dismissed the “baseless” allegations of sexual exploitation levelled against the facility.
Police have arrested the Tripathis along with Kanchanlata, manager of the shelter home.
The girls will undergo a medical test by a woman doctor.
According to police, the registration of the shelter home was suspended in June last year after irregularities were found. Orders were given to close the facility and shift all inmates.
The directors, however, continued running the home and, when questioned, the manager told police they got a high court stay on the government order.
When she failed to produce the court order, the authorities sent a team to the shelter home to shift the girls but the manager did not cooperate. A case was then registered against Kanchanlata and Girija.
District Magistrate Sujit Kumar said there was a list of 42 inmates staying in the shelter home, adding that a probe is under way.
With general elections just months away, opposition parties tried to target the BJP government of UP led by saffron-clad chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Expressing concern over the safety of women and girls, they said the Central Bureau of Investigation should investigate the case.
In neighbouring Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said on Monday that all shelter homes in the state will be directly run by the government which will provide the building and other infrastructure for the facility.
Kumar said no culprit will be spared. He is under pressure to sack social welfare minister Manju Verma for her department’s failure to protect the girls at the shelter home.
Twenty-six officials have been suspended so far for failing to report the irregularities in shelter homes under their watch. Some top officials were suspended for sitting on an audit report by an independent agency, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which pointed to sexual exploitation at six short-stay homes and 14 shelters.