The data tells us that there are fewer children in India who would be classified as “vulnerable” under the 2015 Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJ Act). The enshrinement of child rights into law shows that the protection of children has been formally recognized as a critical issue by the government of India. Specifically, the act contains provisions for children in need of care and protection, including the homeless and those residing with unfit or incapacitated parents or guardians. In short, the JJ Act holds the promise of a safe home for all children.
But these developments say little about the experience of the most vulnerable children once they have been taken under the care of institutions, nor their transition out of care into young adulthood. The nuances of this journey can only be appreciated at the individual level, as the Centre of Asian Philanthropy and Society found when we spent 10 weeks visiting orphanages and children’s homes in the states of Goa and Indore to observe the work of organizations focused on providing shelter for children with no other resort. Between June and August 2017, we collected the stories of children in institutional care in rural and urban Mumbai, Goa, and Madhya Pradesh to provide a glimpse into their lives.
We found that even when at-risk children have been removed from immediate harm, the impact of their traumatic experiences persists. Mental health is not prioritized in most types of institutions these children are taken to. With staff stretched to capacity, children do not always receive the specialized care they need to mitigate the lifelong health risks of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). While resource-strapped institutions are hard-pressed to provide this sort of specialized care, our time in the field showed that an emphasis on providing emotional support and efforts to create a family-like environment for children can reap gains for their well-being.