An observation home meant to reform child offenders is proving to be a horror home for innocent children, filled with instances of physical torture, sexual assault and now the killing of a 14-year old boy by fellow inmates yesterday.
Mubarak Ali was murderously assaulted by fellow inmates at the juvenile home in Coimbatore, a city in Southern India, barely two days after he was taken into the home.
The boy had run away from his uncle's house in Erisarampatti village near Pollachi last Friday. Police picked him up on "suspicion" when he was moving aimlessly in the busy Gandhipuram area. The child welfare committee that handed him over to the observation home had in fact, unwittingly signed his death warrant.
On Tuesday, Mubarak was allegedly beaten up by a group of ten boys who are said to hold criminal records of grave offences.
The boy suffered multiple injuries but fearing a fresh assault, suffered silently for an agonizing four hours till he vomited uncontrollably during the lunch hour.
He told his teacher Latha that he had been beaten and a civil surgeon attached to the home was notified immediately. When his condition was seriously deteriorating, Mubarak was admitted with severe "chest contusions" to the Coimbatore general hospital at 6 pm on Tuesday. He was declared dead on Wednesday morning. An inquiry has been instituted into the killing.
Mubarak Ali's mother, Hainisa Begum was seen wailing over her son's body, "What offence did my son do? Why did they kill him?"
The boy's father Musthafa who works in a bakery in Tirupur said he had left his son at his brother's house at Erisarampatti, over 50 km from Coimbatore. The father said that he hit his son because he was mischievous and hence the boy ran away from his uncle's house.
The 90-year-old observation home, located on a 30-cent land has around 46 boys below 18 years, many of them convicted for criminal offences.
The home was started in 1921 by an NGO, Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society and is supervised by the district collector.
The home that has seen boys frequently escaping from the premises is guarded by a watchman and lacks adequate fencing.
"This home has always been a problem with boys escaping from the premises quite often," said the assistant commissioner of police, D.Chandra Senan.
Though it is run by an NGO, inmates say that the home is actually controlled by "five big boys" with criminal records like murder, burglary and theft. The five boys are locked up in separate rooms at nights but inmates say they do come into the dormitory at nights and that the sole non-formal educator and an elderly administrative officer "look away" helplessly when the five boys bully the other children.
An official of the reform home said that they had repeatedly urged the Juvenile Welfare Board to shift the "five big boys" to the Vellore observation home, adding that Mubarak would not have died had the boys been shifted.
A preliminary study of observation homes in Patna, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Lucknow, Ranchi and Bangalore conducted by the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has observed that "poor sanitation, over-crowded rooms and lack of productive work" are furthering crime and juvenile delinquency.
Experts conducting the study observed, "Sub-standard food, poor sanitation, no water, no productive activity for children and worst of all, no segregation between children in conflict with law and those in need of care and protection were common problems in the homes we visited."