Has the Yogi Adityanath government launched a massive cover up operation to escape responsibility for 57 minor girls aged between 15-17 living in a shelter home in Kanpur who have tested Covid-19 positive?
They were tested at the Lala Lajpat Rai hospital in Kanpur in mid-June. The random testing of the 171 inmates of this home also confirmed that seven of these girls were pregnant. From these, shockingly, five of these pregnant girls also tested Covid-19 positive.
The most alarming aspect of this incident is that almost half of the 171 girls were brought to this home under the POSCO Act where crimes which are sexual in nature including rape are committed against minors.
Kanpur DM Brahma Dev Ram Tewari insists that seven girls were already pregnant when they were brought to the shelter home. Two of these girls were referred by the Child Welfare Committees of Agra and Kannauj in December 2019. Another two pregnant girls were brought here from Etah in January and February 2020 while another girl came from Firozabad district.
The key point is that most of these girls, going by what the local administration has said, were not in advanced stages of pregnancy when they were admitted.
The option of an abortion should have been given to each of them especially since being minors, they were hardly in a position to take care of a child.
Dr Ranjana Kumari heading Centre for Social Research maintains, `The option of whether they wanted to go ahead with the pregnancy should have rested with these minor girls. The MTP Act clearly stipulates that every woman and especially in POSCO cases, has the right to abort within the first trimester. The POSCO Act also clearly stipulates that they be given a medical test before being admitted to a shelter home,’ said Kumari.
The records of whether they were tested or not are not available since the shelter home building has been sealed after sanitisation and the record register which provides details of their medical records cannot be accessed.
Priyank Kanungo, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has his own ingenious explanation for why abortion was not considered an option for these girls.
`Some of them had eloped with their (boy) friends who subsequently did not want to continue with the relationship. The girls were still emotionally involved and so they did not want to go in for an abortion,’ said Kanungo.
`There is no uniform law about having an abortion. It varies from case to case,’ he said.
But given that in the majority of cases, these girls are not accepted by either their parents or by society at large, becoming mothers at such a young age places them at an even greater disadvantage.
Kanungo further pointed out that as far back as March 28, he had issued an advisory to all shelter homes that given the increase in Covid 19 cases, all girls/ women who could be sent back to their homes should be sent back at the earliest.
Kanungo squarely blamed the UP State Commission for Protection of Child Rights for not having followed instructions. `They needed to be much more vigilant,’ he said warning that action for gross negligence could be taken against the superintendent and staff of the shelter home under the JJ Act Section 75.
The district probationary officer Ajit Kumar, in an attempt to intimidate the local media which had exposed how these girls were living in cramped conditions and even sharing beds, filed an FIR on June 22 accusing the local media and social media of spreading falsehoods and misinformation.
His explanation was that the infection may have spread because the inmates were being taken for medical examination at regular intervals to government hospitals.`However, we are still carrying out investigation to ascertain how these girls got Covid 19,’ Kumar claimed.
There are 7162 shelter homes across the country from which 2000 are being run by state governments. The remaining are being run by private organisations.
Several women activist groups question why young women are being kept in these homes for long periods of time. Are they being kept there by force to be used for dubious purposes especially as this opens them to exploitation by unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats. There must be a policy in place where girls are provided with some kind of training so they become economically independent or else are sent back to their families.
The shelter home, meanwhile, has a women’s protection home in the adjoining campus where all have tested negative.
The NHRC has sent notices to the Uttar Pradesh government and the state police chief on how these 57 minor girls tested positive for Covid-19 at this shelter home.