17 October 2018
Students gather outside Sacred Heart Balanagar Hostel for Boys, near Cochin.
(photo: Meenakshi Soman)
In the current edition of ONE magazine, Anubha George writes of how the church is continuing to care for children in India, despite some significant changes in the country. She offers some additional impressions of those she met below.
I still think about my visits to orphanages in Kerala. It was about a month ago that the photographer and I set on our journey to see how a change in Indian law has affected Christian institutions that have taken in children who have either lost both parents or are from single parent families. This new law, the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 has brought big changes in how orphanages in India are run. It wants institutions to have a lot more staff than they previously had, and there is a restriction on foreign aid, among other things.
We chose three orphanages to visit. Well, we shouldn’t call them “orphanages” any more. All three places have had to change their status. They are now boarding places or hostels for boys and girls. Kerala has a big number of places that helped look after children. They are all pretty much missionary-run, and mostly Christian. I understand the concerns of the Indian government: there have been reports of child trafficking in India. Children have gone missing without a trace.
But what we saw were stories of success. Girls and boys who wouldn’t have otherwise stood a chance in life have gone on to do good for the society. Some have become nurses. I remember meeting this group of girls, their faces happy and shiny, singing for us. They all came from families that are broken—where the parents aren’t together, where the mother or father has left to set up another family. Their parents are daily wage workers; no one has steady income. Where they live, the houses are so close together that it’s all considered one big place to live— where men from neighboring houses come and go as they please. Abuse of girls is common. Safety is the biggest concern. It is in this context that these institutions are a necessity.
I remember in particular the story of one girl. She was three when her father attacked her mother, as the little girl stood watching. Her mother had, perhaps, been unfaithful. Her father then butchered the body into pieces and tried to burn it. The neighbors reported him to the police and he was arrested. But the girl, who is now seven years old, remembers it all. The headmistress of the nursery she used to attend brought her to an orphanage. Here, she at least has some kind of normal life. A life of routine and love; of prayer and belief; of safety and security, where she doesn’t have to wonder where the next meal will come from or when is the next time she will have a bath.
Then there was a boy, Abin. His parents have left him and his older brother in Kerala while they live in Delhi, hundreds of miles away. Actually, we never quite figured out what his parents do. I don’t think he knows why he is there at all. All he remembers is a promise: that he will go back to be with mom and dad when Christmas comes. When that Christmas will come, no one knows.
But for now, at least, he has other boys, who play and smile with him, to be there every Christmas until then.
Read more in ‘Our Doors Are Open’ in the September 2018 edition of ONE.
Tags: India ONE magazine Orphans/Orphanages