Preventive Steps with Regard to Prevention of Coronavirus in Beggars’ Homes and Child Care Institutions
While the Hon’ble Supreme Court is looking at prisons and juvenile homes, this is to request to consider other custodial and other institutions where vulnerable populations are housed in large numbers. Unfortunately, these groups have very high risk of infections due to their low immunity that is further deteriorated due to the condition in institutional settings. This is to request for an immediate intervention with regard to institutional populations in the light of Covid 19 crisis. On the basis of Koshish’s work with some of these institutions and therefore familiarity with the situation at the ground, we seek following reliefs:
- Beggars Homes: Beggars Homes, established under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, houses the elderly, abandoned, and destitute people suffering with chronic or prolonged illness, mental health issues, or those affected with leprosy or physical disability who get arrested under the Act. Most of the institutions lack basic facilities, making their stay highly risky for the inmates. In the current situation, where risk of spread of the virus is already very high, keeping large numbers of destitute people in custody must be prevented.
Therefore, it is requested that arrests under beggary laws may be suspended till the situation returns to normal. Suspension of police operations to arrest persons in beggary would mean no new admissions into these institutions, thereby bringing down the risk factor. Maharashtra has 14 Beggars Homes across the state while the arrests are made in higher number of districts. Suspension of arrest is needed for all districts.
- For those currently living in beggars’ homes, they may be released to the care of their families, wherever available, using the provision of ‘Release on Licence’ under the Bombay Prevention of Begging State Rules. Arrangements would have to be made for transporting them to their homes.
- For child care institutions, children who can be released on to the custody of their families, should be restored to their families at the earliest. The Child Welfare Committees in each district under the JJ Act, 2015, may be asked to visit child care institutions under their jurisdiction and review cases of children living in these institutions in terms of whether they can be released to the care of their families.
- Children in Conflict with Law (CCL) should be released on bail by the Juvenile Justice Boards at the earliest, especially those arrested in offences not categorised as heinous offences, as per the JJ Act, 2015.
- Inmates and staff members should be oriented to follow sanitation protocol as prescribed by health advisories and maintain hygiene in the institutions.
- Inmates should be encouraged to report any signs of illness and not hide their symptoms and putting self and others at risk. It will be useful if a few of the staff members are oriented who can remove doubts and provide confidence to inmates.
- Adequate arrangements should be made for maintaining hygiene and sanitation in all child care and women’s institutions and beggars’ homes. Sanitation protocol should be followed strictly. Supplies for cleaning need to be ensured. Alcohol based sanitisers should be placed at appropriate locations like entry gate, living areas, etc.
- Health condition of staff members should be monitored constantly. Morning and evening temperature must be taken of staff members, to ensure they are not falling ill due to the exposure. Contactless forehead medical thermometers must be purchased. Contact thermometers must not be used at all.
- Inmates (mostly from extremely poor and remote locations and many of them having issues of mental illness) may need to be educated on maintaining personal hygiene. Supplies like soap should be given to each individual (as of now, inmates in institutions like Beggars Homes generally share bathing bars).
- Most people reaching these institutions have very low immunity. Nutritional diet should be provided to enhance immunity. Food items rich in nutrition and easily available may be added to daily diet.
- In many institutions, there are no beddings and people sleep on the floor. State governments should arrange for clean bedding. This impacts the immunity and can lead to infections like cough and cold even in normal times, so it must be prevented at this time of crisis.
- Supplies of sanitary pads is not regular in several of the institutions. This can be crucial in spread of infection. All women’s institutions must be provided with sanitary napkins on regular basis.
- It has been experienced that in institutions where number of residents are less, the administration tends to close a few barracks and all inmates are shifted in one or two barracks. In such places, depending on the situation, closed barracks may be used to decongest the barracks.
- Many of these institutions do not have staff members to carry out the required sanitation precautions, especially in beggars’ homes. Some of these institutions are being run with just 1-2 caretakers in a shift. Staff posts in the district offices should be brought back to institutional postings and new staff should be appointed on contract basis to fill vacancies.
- Supervisory visits should be made to ensure the supplies of materials are regular and in sufficient quantity.
Mohd. Tarique, Asst. Professor, Director’s Office, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and Project Director, Koshish, a field action project of TISS