New Delhi: Bhakti (not her real name) grew up in a childcare home, where she was sent at age four. On turning 18, she was sent to a government-run ‘aftercare’ home, as many young adults are after they turn 18, to help her transition into the “real” world.
The aftercare home arranged her marriage, she said, against her wishes. When the marriage turned abusive, the institution did not help and she took police help to flee her husband’s home. Now 21, Bhakti lives in a working women’s hostel and earns Rs 6,000 per month as an unskilled textile worker. She said she wants a divorce, and aspires to work as a beautician--she is a class V drop-out, but has attended a beautician’s course.
Bhakti is one of thousands of vulnerable young people struggling to rebuild their lives after leaving a childcare institution. Almost half of such young adults fail to find paid work, according to a new study, ‘Beyond 18: Leaving Child Care Institutions - A Study of Aftercare Practices in Five States of India’, released in August 2019.
About 370,000 children were lodged in 9,589 childcare institutes across the country, noted a September 2018 report of the Jena Committee, which had been instituted by the government to map childcare institutes in the country.
Childcare institutes look after orphans, abandoned or surrendered children, and children who are survivors of neglect, abuse, violence and trafficking. When their residents turn 18, they have to leave these homes, but are entitled to “aftercare”--support for independent living and community integration, mandated by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act), its Rules of 2016 and the Child Protection Scheme. Such young adults are the state’s responsibility until they turn 21 and, in exceptional circumstances, for two further years.
However, of those surveyed for the report, more than a quarter (27%) said they had not received any form of aftercare and 44% said they were not consulted in their care and rehabilitation planning. The real figures of those who fail to get support, the study said, were likely to be higher, since such persons were largely untraceable--on leaving childcare homes, the study said, they become “no one’s responsibility”.
The study found many government functionaries as well as potential beneficiaries unaware of legal provisions regarding aftercare. “This leads to poor implementation of already existing provisions in law and policy,” said Shireen Vakil, head of policy and advocacy at Tata Trusts, one of the organisations that undertook the study. Aftercare institutes and services have not been studied systematically, and there are no data on the number of such institutes in the country.
The young people surveyed “struggle to cope and are often socially excluded, go through mental illness that is not addressed adequately, and have phases of uncertainty and unemployment, not being independent and yet not knowing who to depend on”, the preface of the report said.
The study was undertaken by the non-governmental organisation Udayan Care with support from UNICEF, Tata Trusts, and the governments of the states covered--Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. In all, 435 ‘care-leavers’ in the 17-30 age group were interviewed, as were more than 100 child protection experts and officials in the five states.
“This is the first large quantitative report on what happens to the youth who leave institutes,” said Kiran Modi, managing trustee of Udayan Foundation.
Childcare and aftercare
Of the 9,589 childcare homes in India, 91% are run by NGOs and 9% by the government, the Jena Committee report said. IndiaSpend reported on the poor regulation and monitoring of these homes and the need for systemic and systematic reforms in September 2018, after cases of child abuse and neglect came to light in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Deoria in Uttar Pradesh, and from a hostel for differently-abled women in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
Although it is mandatory for all childcare institutes to be registered under the JJ Act that gives children the right to aftercare as well, a large number of childcare institutes are not registered. The share of unregistered institutes ranges from 22% to 62% of all childcare institutes in the five states, the Udayan Foundation study reported. As a result, no clear numbers are available on the number of children housed in these institutes, or their care-leavers.
The Jena committee report also did not have adequate data on the aftercare institutes. The authors of the present report found aftercare institutes in five states--two in Delhi, two in Gujarat, three in Karnataka, seven in Maharashtra and none in Rajasthan.
States have not yet looked at comprehensive aftercare programmes for care-leavers, but have different schemes for vulnerable children that provide skills training, jobs, scholarships, housing, healthcare, etc.
In some states such as Maharashtra, there is reservation in higher education for orphans. Rajasthan has Palanhaar Yojna that provides cash transfer to vulnerable children to remain with family or kin. However, more such schemes with clear guidelines, and easier access, are needed, the report said.
Growing up in childcare institutions adversely affected the continuity of education, skill-training and social stability of care-leavers, and did not prepare them for their transition into adulthood, the report said.
While the children get food and shelter in childcare institutions, they do not get the mentoring and mental health support that is crucial for them as young adults. They also face uncertainty and instability--of the young adults interviewed, 42% had lived in two or more homes as children.
“Most children need transition planning after the age of 16 years that gives them skills and prepares them to live independently, and that is largely missing,” said Modi.
Aftercare challenges: housing and education
Securing stable and secure housing was a big challenge for care-leavers, the report found. Fewer than half of those surveyed received housing support, even though it is mandated by law.
Under the JJ Act, an aftercare programme should include group housing on a temporary basis for groups of six to eight persons. Yet, even among those who received aftercare services, 39% did not receive housing support.
Among the five states studied, Rajasthan had no aftercare homes. In the other states, these homes were located in few districts, compelling some young adults to move to these districts and thereby rupture relationships they had built up with their peers and staff. They also had to change educational institutions and jobs, said the report. There were no aftercare homes for girls in the five states, other than one each in Delhi and Maharashtra.
The report said there were far fewer group homes for girls than boys, because they were seen as unsafe. Women care-leavers who were able to earn were sent to working women’s hostels. But those who did not could end up in Swadhar Grihas (women’s shelters) and homes for destitute women.
Under the JJ Act, care-leavers should get a stipend during vocational training, scholarships for higher education, and financial support until they are employed. There should also be arrangements for skill training and placement through the National Skill Development Programme and other programmes.
However, the report found that the care-leavers were poorly educated during their stay in childcare institutes and later. About 40% were dropouts. In Rajasthan and Delhi, only 14% and 13% had studied beyond school.
Nearly 21% of all care-leavers across states had not received the education they had wanted to in their childcare institutes, while 35% had faced difficulty in continuing their education when they had transitioned out of childcare institutes.
In Karnataka, however, 35% of care-leavers had graduated from college or beyond. Yet, across states, half or fewer had received training at their childcare institutes in one or more employable skills.
The report said 65% of care-leavers who lived in childcare institutes run by NGOs had employable skills, nearly twice the 35% from government-run child care institutes.
Few job opportunities, fewer for women
With low educational qualifications, most care-leavers work in blue-collar jobs and earn wages below the minimum wage, the survey found.
“Barring the Juvenile Justice laws, the care-leavers do not find a mention in any policy or programme of the government, therefore resulting in high rates of unemployment,” Vakil of Tata Trusts said.
Of the 435 interviewed, nearly half (48%) did not find work. Of those who did, 93% were salaried and 7% were self-employed. They earned, on average, between Rs 7,500 and Rs 8,500 a month. This is below the minimum wage for skilled work in Maharashtra (Rs 9,559) and in Delhi (Rs 14,000).
Most boys are pushed to become economically independent by undergoing vocational skills training that secure them low-paying jobs, irrespective of their academic interests and ambitions. The survey cited the case of a talented young man who had to give up his admission in a BA Architecture programme.
“For the girls, [the] rehabilitative method used is to marry them off and forget about them,” said Vakil. This often leads to domestic violence or broken marriages and the children of such marriages are vulnerable to entering (childcare) institutions, too, perpetuating the cycle of institutional care, she said.
“For further education or vocational training, like boys, [girls] too are pushed, against their wishes, into gaining employment through stitching, nursing, and by being a beautician,” said Vakil. “Their talent is neither nurtured nor honed.”
In jobs as in housing, women have it worse than men, with 63% of female care-leavers lacking an independent source of income as against 36% of their male counterparts, despite similar educational attainments.
As many as 70% of care-leavers did not have any formal exposure to financial literacy and more than half of them (53.3%) had received no financial guidance.
The survey found that one in every five care-leavers did not have a bank account. One-fourth (26%) of women care-leavers did not have one, while only 16% of the men lacked one. While 87% of care-leavers did not have insurance, fewer women had access to insurance than men (9% vs 16%).
Ill health, emotional distress
Young adults leaving childcare institutes do not have the support and resources to tide over health crises, the study found. More than a third (38%) of surveyed care-leavers did not have any kind of financial support or allowances from their families.
Almost one in four care-leavers (23%) did not have anyone to provide long-term care during illnesses. More than three-fourths of those surveyed (78%) lacked health insurance and 13% did not have adequate funds for healthcare.
Further, due to their life experiences, 61% of care-leavers reported facing recurring emotional distress and a majority said they did not seek professional help for it.
The study found that challenges faced by care-leavers such as unwillingness to continue with their education, hold a job and maintain relationships was linked to their poor emotional health and lack of resilience.
They felt insecure after leaving childcare institutes, which added to their stress, the study found. “I experienced different challenges and opportunities on a daily basis and I feel, when someone is under so much pressure, the person will not be able to do it alone and needs support at multiple levels,” an 18-year-old from Maharashtra was quoted as saying.
Around 38% of the male care-leavers and 28% of the female care-leavers struggled to maintain relationships with peers and mentors, the survey found. Most of the care-leavers had been raised with little exposure to the opposite sex, making their relationships fraught, the study found. Also, two-thirds of male care-leavers and 88% of female care-leavers spoke of their inability to maintain romantic relationships, feeling that these were “not applicable” to them.
One third of the care-leavers interviewed said they did not feel empowered to live independently. Half of them (49%) had never been taught to cook and 44% had never received household management training while in childcare institutes. Two in five said they wanted to learn such things.
Many of the young adults interviewed said they were hamstrung by a lack of basic documents. Even though 96% of them had an Aadhaar card, 64% did not have a voter card, 62% did not have a ration card and 54% did not have a PAN card. The report cites the case of a young man who could not obtain a driver’s licence because he did not have a proof of residence.
In this respect, too, women are worse off--70% of female care-leavers did not have a PAN card as compared to 41% males. It showed how poorly empowered women were with respect to availing of financial services, compared to men, the study noted.
Towards equal opportunities
The report identifies eight spheres of aftercare--housing, independent living skills, social and interpersonal skills, emotional wellbeing, physical health, educational and vocational skills, financial independence and career skills, and identity and legal awareness--that childcare institutes need to provide.
“Staff in the childcare institutes needs to be trained in these skills so that they provide the children with opportunities to be well-rounded human beings,” said Modi of Udayan Foundation. “Why is there a hurry to settle them in marriage or low paying jobs? We should invest in their education like we do for our kids,” she added.
(Yadavar is a special correspondent with IndiaSpend/HealthCheck.)
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