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Alternative care a boon for orphans in Odisha

February 8, 2019

Alternative care a boon for orphans in Odisha

Bhubaneswar: Millions of children across the country struggle to get proper care in their childhood and better opportunities later on in their lives for a myriad of reasons — poverty, parental neglect or loss of guardians. While such children mostly get shelter in various institutional care systems, there seems to be a new system in place, a far more democratic one.

The Youth Council for Development Alternatives (YCDA) has launched a campaign for alternative care in association with UNICEF and the Odisha government.  The authorities are implementing four different types of childcare institutions in the state, proving to be a boon for orphan kids residing across the state.

On an experimental basis, foster care, kinship care, independent living or care, sponsor care, group foster care and aftercare, has been implemented in three districts of the state — Boudh, Bolangir and Khurda. Under this alternative care system, orphaned and abandoned children are identified and then taken to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) based on which the type of care system is put in place for these children.

Rajendra Meher of YCDA cited the case of Muzzafarpur shelter homes and pointed towards the fact that children at various institutional care systems are vulnerable to exploitation. “To stay in a family is the right of every child and we are trying to provide that family environment. Instead of institutional care, non-institutional care is proving to be a better option for them. Placing a child in foster care gives them a safe place to grow until they are reunited with their parents or find a permanent rehabilitation.”

Talking about the importance of letting children decide their future for themselves, an official from YCDA said that while it wasn’t allowed to make a child choose or even have a discussion about their future, the non-institutional approach gives them that opportunity to decide where they want to stay. “Rescue, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Restoration are the most important factors while considering childcare,” he added.

Seven-year-old Mamuni Behera and 11-year-old Tukuna Behera were rescued five years ago when their parents abandoned them on the platform of Bhubaneswar railway station. While Tukuna studies in the 5th grade, his sister Mamuni is in the 3rd grade. After the siblings were rescued, they were kept in a shelter home near Lingaraj temple. But later, for their better upbringing, they were placed for foster care in Khurda.

Picture sourced by Monalisa Patsani

Babu Behera, a weaver by profession, had no children and had applied for adoption in CWC. Earlier, they had adopted the daughter of a relative, who, after marriage, has not visited them. When the CWC approached them in 2013 with both the kids to be their foster parents, they happily accepted the kids as members of their family. “We don’t have our own children, but we always wanted to have kids of our own. In 2013, Mamuni and Tukuna were given to us, and since then they have been a part of our life,” said Behera.

Arun, a YCDA official, said that while technically Mamuni and Tukuna are not orphans, they are missing and could be traceable in future. He revealed that they had decided that keeping these children in CCI won’t be a good idea, and thus, they were sent to foster care. He also pointed out that Babu Behera had been on the list for quite some time, and therefore, the kids were sent to his care.

To look after the kids, Behera gets a monthly allowance of Rs 2000. Officials visit the kids every month to inspect about their well being.  According to the law, a child can stay in foster care for a minimum of five years until their biological parents are found. However, if both the foster parents and children want to stay together even after five years, YCDA helps them in the same.

Kinship care gave a new lease of life to Anju and Sishir of Gudhiali village in Boudh. They lost their father in 2006, and later, were abandoned by their mother. YCDA identified them as vulnerable kids and placed them under the guidance of their grandmother.

“After the death of their father, their mother abandoned them and ran away with another man. They were very small, and nobody wanted to look after them, so being their grandmother, I came forward. I am doing whatever I can. I will let Anju study as long as she desires to. I want her to be able to stand confidently in the society,” shared Dutee Bhoi, grandmother of Anju and Sishir.

Similarly, in Baghapali village, independent care has been implemented where five orphaned siblings are taking care of each other. The eldest, Sravani Meher, who was 17 years old when they lost their parents is now working as a labourer and earns around Rs 300 per day. She has even started the construction of their house and helps her youngest sister in her studies. “Our mother died in 2002 and father in 2004. None of our relatives extended a helping hand. Fortunately, YCDA has helped us to some extent. After the death of our parents, we had no one to look after us. Being the eldest, I pitched into the role of both the mother and the father for my siblings,” Sravani Meher told 101Reporters.

Picture sourced by Monalisa Patsani

Similarly, there are options like sponsor care and aftercare as well under the initiative. Youngsters above the age of 18 are sent to aftercare where they stay till they get a job. After that, they are trained under Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDUGKY) and are allowed to learn basic skills in the profession they desire to pursue.

Other than alternative care, orphaned kids in conflict with the law are mostly sent to Balashrams, observation homes and special homes. As of now, there are six Balashrams, two special homes and five observation homes in Odisha.

UNICEF collaborates closely with the Department of W&CD and YCDA to advocate for effective implementation of JJ (CPC) Act – 2015 and integrating the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (2009) into its policies; strengthen community-based activities and social protection services to support and strengthen families to prevent separation, and support family reintegration when possible. Laxmi Narayan Nanda, Child Protection Specialist (UNICEF Odisha), pointed out that children get separated from their parents due to various reasons like forced migration, natural disasters, diseases, abuse or neglect, social exclusion, death of one or more parent, and even a lack of household resources.

With the success of alternative care system in the three districts, the authorities are now planning the system in other districts of Odisha as well, which would give orphan children in other parts of the state an opportunity to live a family environment.

“Initially, when we started this, we were a bit concerned. Glad that people are it became successful. If more people come forward and show their willingness to support a child and take care of its all requirement, it would benefit many orphans. This could be implemented in other parts the country to decrease the cases of child exploitation, as here we regularly monitor all the children along with the families who have taken their responsibility,” shared Rajendra Meher.