Saturdays at the children’s home in Dongri were meant for meetings with parents. Similarly, children in custodial care institutions could meet their mothers lodged in jails once in a fortnight for an hour within jail premises. However, the lockdown changed all that.
With restrictions put on physical meetings, attempts have been made to replace them with phone calls and video calls. However, the biggest challenge, the authorities said, was to placate the children after every emotional call.
On June 23, the Women and Child Development (WCD) Commissionerate had issued a circular to all state-run and other homes meant for children in Maharashtra to start video call facility. “Video calls will allow the children to see their parents and remain in touch with them,” the circular stated. The state prison department, too, had issued a circular to continue communication between prison inmates and their children in institutions outside.
At the Dongri home, where 104 children are staying at present — including those who have run away from their homes, lost their way or were rescued and in conflict with law — calls are made to family members on every Monday and Saturday.
Rahul Kanthikar, the superintendent of the home, said that video calls are not possible for at least 40 per cent of the children, as their parents do not own smart phones.
“For a few minutes on these days, the children speak to their family members. Most just ask when the lockdown is going to end,” Kanthikar said. He added that since most children become very emotional after the phone calls, probation officers who sit with them during the phone calls have to explain the Covid-19 pandemic and the situation that has arisen because of it.
At the home, many children who have been ordered to be repatriated by the child welfare committee, await being reunited with their families due to the restrictions on travel.
Usually, after coordination between their homes states and the committee, police officers escort the children home. So far, in three cases, parents have managed to come to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Hyderabad, to take their child home.
For children in institutions with their parents in jail, bimonthly mulaqats have been replaced with video and phone calls. Reena Jaiswar, who works as a social worker with Prayas – a field action project of Tata Institute of Social Sciences that has been working in prisons — said she has received a positive feedback from the children about the video calls.
“Usually, when we would speak to the women inmates, they would remain unaware about the condition of the homes where their children are housed. Now, through the video calls made from within the homes, the women are able to see how their children live,” Jaiswar said.
Prayas had written to both the WCD and the prison department for the video call facility to continue.
A report submitted by the prison department to the Bombay High Court in May had said that there were 75 women inmates across state jails with 104 children. Children till the age of six are allowed to live with their mothers in the prison. If there is no guardian to whom their custody can be granted, children are kept in custodial care institutions.