Kanpur: The discovery of Covid-positive and pregnant minor girls at a state-run shelter home seems to have left the Kanpur administration spinning its wheels, even as it has now emerged that 171 girls were being put up in the shelter home with just 100 beds.
In some cases, as many as three girls were sharing a bed, which could’ve contributed to the rapid spread of Covid-19.
In total, 57 girls tested positive for the novel coronavirus, of whom five were pregnant, while two other girls who tested negative were also expecting. But the administration is steadfast in maintaining that the girls did not get pregnant during the lockdown — they had arrived pregnant at the shelter home, located in Swarup Nagar.
The shelter is also used to put up girls from Kanpur, Agra, Aligarh and Chitrakoot divisions who have faced child sexual abuse and whose families have abandoned them. Recently, two other girls delivered babies at this shelter home, according to authorities.
However, with so many Covid-19 cases emerging in a single shelter, opposition parties have demanded a high-level probe.
Speaking to ThePrint, Mithilesh Pal, the superintendent of the shelter, admitted that it was running far beyond capacity.
“It is not easy to strictly implement the norms of social distancing when there is such a large number of girls residing here,” she said.
Pal said she had already written to senior state child welfare officials about being over-capacity, but no action was taken. She added that the shelter home knew about the girls’ pregnancies and they were being provided medical care.
District Probation Officer Ajit Kumar also admitted to the shelter being over-capacity, and that the chances of the spread of Covid-19 were higher.
“Last week, when a girl from this shelter home showed symptoms, she was immediately tested. When the test came up positive, many more girls were tested. By Thursday, the number of positive cases went up to 33, and by Sunday, to 57. Following this, everyone was quarantined and the facility sealed,” Kumar said.
“There are girls from Kanpur, Agra, Aligarh and Chitrakoot divisions at this shelter home, who are victims of POCSO crimes that are under trial, and whose families have abandoned them. Under these circumstances, several pregnant girls already live here, and this is also in the knowledge of the administration,” he said.
However, Juhi Singh, former chairperson of the UP State Commission for Child Rights and senior leader of the opposition Samajwadi Party, questioned the commission and associated government departments for the state of the shelter home. She said there should be POCSO courts and shelters in every district, and the hearings in these cases should be time-bound.
Singh also said the Centre has allocated enough funds for these facilities, which should be utilised properly.
DM issues case history of 7 pregnant girls
On the issue of the seven girls being pregnant, a report was issued Monday on behalf of Kanpur District Magistrate Dr Brahmdev Ram Tiwari, containing their case history.
The report states that police investigations are going on in each of these POCSO cases in different districts — two girls each are from Etah and Kanpur, and one each from Agra, Firozabad and Kannauj. All of them were brought to the Swarup Nagar shelter home on being recommended by child welfare committees of these regions.
Speaking to ThePrint, DM Tiwari refuted “social media rumours” that the girls had got pregnant at the shelter home during the lockdown, and said there would be “strict action” against those spreading these rumours.
He also denied media reports that one of the seven pregnant girls is HIV-positive. The DM and Kanpur’s senior superintendent of police had not denied this “rumour” when the news emerged Sunday night.
The DM has constituted a committee to investigate the matter, which includes a sub-divisional magistrate and a circle officer (CO) of the police.
The DM’s statement and action come after opposition leaders including former CM and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav expressed outrage on Twitter and demanded a probe.
कानपुर के सरकारी बाल संरक्षण गृह से आई ख़बर से उप्र में आक्रोश फैल गया है. कुछ नाबालिग लड़कियों के गर्भवती होने का गंभीर खुलासा हुआ है. इनमें 57 कोरोना से व एक एड्स से भी ग्रसित पाई गयी है, इनका तत्काल इलाज हो.
सरकार शारीरिक शोषण करनेवालों के ख़िलाफ़ तुरंत जाँच बैठाए.
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) June 22, 2020
UP Congress president Ajay Kumar Lallu also demanded a high-level inquiry, after the party’s general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had raised the issue Sunday night, calling it a repeat of the Muzaffarpur shelter home case.
NHRC issues notice to top UP officials
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Monday issued a notice to UP’s chief secretary and director general of police on this issue. They have been asked to respond within four weeks.
The NHRC has sought a detailed report about the health status of the girls, and the medical treatment and counselling being provided to them.
It has also expressed hope that the UP government will order an independent agency to investigate this.
The UP government, on its part, has issued orders that each person who wishes to enter children’s shelters will be thermally screened, for which infra-red thermometers will be provided to these institutions. The order also talks about making arrangements for sanitisers at their gates, and that no person with a cold or fever be allowed in.