India: rebuilding lives at the shelter care home in Tamil Nadu

The shelter care home for boys in Chennai, India is situated in a large compound with trees and has four big classrooms. They are simple but alive with colourful displays of hand paintings, intricate paper cuttings and children's laughter. The boys wear blue coordinated uniforms. There is enough activity to keep them busy - reading, drawing, playing games, theatre and singing.

This is home to 150 boys in the age group of 8 to 18 years old who are sheltered and cared for here. There is a sense of belonging and acceptance, a stark contrast to what these children have endured. Most of the residents here are orphans, 'runaways' from their home and have suffered physical abuse, torture, exploitation and trauma. They are vulnerable to substance use, sexual and labour exploitation and trafficking while on the run.

Like the many boys, ten year old Ganesh was also rescued by the outreach workers. He sits huddled on the floor with his friends and excels at bead work. He was rescued by a volunteer from the Child Line organisation, who found him at a railway station in Tamil Nadu, India. When he first arrived here, he was unable to relate to people because of severe physical abuse. This  also resulted in temporary mental instability and self alienation.

*Ganesh shares his story, "I escaped from my house when I was ten years old as my step father did not treat me well. One day I just ran away and somehow reached the Koyembedu bus stand. I started selling water packets in the market. After earning some money I boarded a bus but was thrown out from the moving bus in another city. I was badly hurt. I ran into a band of boys elder than me who beat me up, forced me to beg and pick pocket at railway stations. Finally, I was rescued and brought here."

The Child Welfare Committee, Government of Tamil Nadu, after hearing his case, placed Ganesh in this institution for nine years. After a year, Ms. Glory Gunaseeli, Superintendent of the institution sent him with outreach workers to meet his family as his mother may be looking for him. His family was very happy to see him but his mother had passed away just 23 days before he went home.  His step father took him back.

"I ran away from home again after six months! I was not happy as my step father continued to drink and abuse me. My mother is dead. I have no one to look out for me. So I came back to my real home - here.  I am happy here.  I receive counselling, education and have made my friends. My sister is left behind and I am her only real family. I visit her when I am sent home for holidays and during festivals," shares Ganesh.

UNODC and the Government of Tamil Nadu support this initiative under the project, 'Reducing children's vulnerability to abuse and rehabilitation of survivors'. This initiative is possible thanks to the contribution of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

*Name changed