By Annie Banerji
NEW DELHI, July 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India will place phones and posters advertising helplines in children's homes after more than 30 girls living in one were raped, the women and children's minister said on Monday, a measure campaigners dismissed as inadequate.
Maneka Gandhi tweeted that she was "deeply anguished" by the rape of 34 young girls by staff at a government-funded home in eastern Bihar state, a case that has caused nationwide outrage since it was uncovered last month.
But Anant Kumar Asthana, a child rights lawyer who advises homes on legal compliance, said phones and helplines were not the solution, calling the case a "glaring example of how pathetic the system is".
"Giving posters and telephones is not sufficient because these children are living in an institution and know that if they complain, people inside will come to know," Asthana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We must acknowledge the vulnerabilities of such children. These childcare institutions are basically incarceration facilities where children are locked up and they have no agency, no free will or sufficient protections."
Sexual and physical abuse are common in India's care homes, where many children are placed by parents who are too poor to feed, clothe and shelter them, campaigners say.
The Bihar shelter has been shut since June when police arrested 10 people, including the owner, after investigations showed girls had been abused. The youngest was seven, police said.
The girls case have told a court they were regularly tortured, starved, drugged and raped in what local media have dubbed the "house of horrors".
One girl reportedly said she had been beaten and starved when she tried to resist, while others were given food laced with sedatives and forced to sleep naked.
Members of Bihar's state women's commission who recently visited the victims told the Hindustan Times newspaper that a culture of fear and punishment stopped girls from seeking help.
"Fear of being punished if they opened her mouth loomed large on each one of them. The officials kept making routine enquiry and monitoring while the girls kept giving positive replies," member Nikki Hembram told the paper.
The government introduced the death penalty this year for anyone found guilty of raping girls under 12.
More than 100 cases of women being raped were reported daily in India in 2016, the latest government data shows.
(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)
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