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The Lost Child

Author: Suno India

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The Lost Child is a thought-provoking series by Suno India, supported by Firstpost that gives you the tragic insights of child shelter homes in India and ground reality of the lives of these young people. The series will also bring to fore solutions that are being championed by pioneers of hope. As we encounter the situation on the ground - a mixture of corruption, poverty, abuse, and indifference- we wonder about the circumstances that lead children into shelter homes or into homes of strangers who adopt them and make them their own.

We will show how apathy and lack of resources can have disastrous consequences distorting the effects of time and distance on children. Listeners are introduced to the story of a child who spent years in a shelter away from his family home. Stories like this are more common than they should be. In this comparison, we see hope from unexpected quarters and how technology is becoming an enabler. The enforcement authorities of the southern Indian state of Telangana are using an app with facial recognition technology called ‘Darpan’ to reunite missing children with their parents.

The series will ask more questions as it progresses- why are shelter homes underfunded and not staffed sufficiently; why is family restoration through counseling and support, not a big priority of our government; what is being done to help those children in shelter homes to cope? This is where non-profits like Salaam Baalak Trust step in. We will feature stories of children who faced hardships yet pulled it through and have gone on to become engineers & doctors.

We will also try to get answers from various stakeholders - government officials, elders in the community, child right experts, social workers, activists and last but not the least children who have been raised in these shelter homes. The Lost Child is not just about going beyond the physical walls of shelter homes but also the societal walls which have been built around these children invisibilizing them.

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3 Episodes
When we started our podcast Dear Pari, we had more questions than answers about the children in shelter homes. So this year we decided to dig deeper to understand how and why children come into shelter homes and how their lives are shaped here. So this year, we decided to find some answers to these questions.  We wonder and ask aloud- why are shelter homes underfunded and insufficiently staffed; why is family restoration through a larger priority for our governments?  Why are there so many instances of abuse reported from these shelter homes? We will also bring to you success stories- of technology being used to rescue children; of models of care and protection which deserve to be replicated on a larger scale.  The show will bring perspectives from various stakeholders - government officials, elders in the community, child right experts, social workers, activists and last but not the least from children who grew up these shelter homes.  For more stories like this, you can listen on ( . Also follow us on Facebook ( , Twitter ( or Instagram ( .
The first episode of The Lost Child, a Suno India production supported by Firstpost, looks at the crime and abuse that was rampant at Balika Griha or shelter home in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. It traces the story of how girls in the shelter home were abused for years (this was first reported in 2014, but only got attention in 2018); how no one said anything; how it finally came to light through a 110-page audit report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS); and discusses the many government officials implicated in this case. Through the audit and the following investigation, it came to light that around 36 of the 44 girls living there had been sexually abused. More were sexually assaulted and faced violence, with investigators even finding blood splattered on the walls. This case, alarmingly, is not an exception; it's the result of a failing childcare and protection system in the country. The Balika Griha was located in the same compound as Pratah Kamal, a Hindi daily, run by the family of Brajesh Thakur. Thakur was a local leader with political connections going up to the Bihar Cabinet; he was the chief of the NGO in charge of the home, and later it was found, the main accused. Child Welfare Committees (CWC), the district-level bodies in charge of ensuring appropriate implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act, failed to do their job. Following the TISS report and nation-wide media attention, an FIR was filed and the issue later escalated to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Members from the CWCs themselves — Dilip Verma, Vikas, and Rakesh Raushan — were allegedly involved in the assault and have been charge-sheeted. All this could carry on because of one primary reason: No one said anything. In response to the crying that they consistently heard, they were told the girls were unstable. And in response to journalists' questions, people living around simply wanted to forget all about it. The next episode will continue tracing this investigation, hearing from Tarique Mohammed, who leads the TISS team through their audit. Listen to more episodes from The Lost Child here ( . *** Suno India is a multilingual podcast platform for issues that matter. For more information, log on to ( or follow it on Twitter, ( Facebook ( and Instagram  (
While the first episode of The Lost Child, a Suno India production supported by Firstpost, looked at the abuse prevalent in Muzaffarpur's Balika Griha, the second episode follows up with an interview of Tarique Mohammed, who lead the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) team through the audit which brought this issue to light. The idea behind the audit, Mohammed explains, was simply to evaluate the well-being and safety of the children, women and elderly people living in government institutions and get feedback from residents. With the children in particular, their aim was to show them that the government cared about them and was taking active steps to improve their situation. However, in the case of the Muzaffarpur home, Mohammed recalls a state of eerie silence as they entered — an immediate red flag, considering there were 50 children living there. The children also seemed prepared for the official visit and were reluctant to speak up. "I think we are failing our children," says Mohammed, adding that after the Muzaffarpur case, similar situations surfaced in Orissa and Tamil Nadu. "You know what we are doing? We are doing nothing," he adds. While most shelter homes don't subject children to gross violations, they are still in precarious situations. Most work on limited budgets with only Rs 2000 per child for all expenses, which translates to low quality and limited food. Most didn't have any professional medical assistance on hand. Mohammed gives the example of a boy who wanted to study but wasn't sent to a school because of the fear that he would run away, and staff was thin enough that one couldn't be spared to monitor the boy. Another important insight is that many social workers seem content with making assessments by checking the records on file instead of actually visiting the institutions; the Muzaffarpur shelter home, for instance, had 60 recorded visits. "There has to be a social audit done for all institutions, as a rule, by an independent agency," Mohammed offers as one of the solutions. This should be aided with feedback from children. Their feedback is mandatory according to the Juvenile Justice Act, but in reality, children's committees only exist on paper with no actual knowledge when discussed. Mohammed warns of the anger or insecurity children will grow up if continually neglected and mistreated, ending with examples of institutions where children are being treated well, which can serve as models.
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