“I was apprehensive about the future of my 19-year-old differently abled daughter, especially after learning about the frequent incidents of sexual assault that have been occurring over the past few years. However, after handing over her custody to her elder brother, I feel I have secured her future,” said Vanita Kulkarni (name changed on request) who benefited from the scheme of legal guardianship initiated by the district social welfare department.
The department has been operating this programme for over ten years and thus the Pune district is the only one in the state which has taken up this initiative on such a substantial scale – so far securing the future of 721 of 2,440 mentally challenged youngsters in its purview by appointing legal guardians for them.
“The parents of special kids are always worried about their future. Often after the death of the father and mother, relatives forcibly acquire properties from these youngsters by coercively acquiring thump impressions or signatures. To preclude this, the centre made a special provision under the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act in 1999 with provision of sanctioning legal guardianship of differently abled children through adoption by siblings, other relatives, and registered organisations,” said district social welfare officer Sanjay Kadam. He also added that since its execution no cases of harassment through legal guardianship have come up before local level committees.
The scheme was implemented in the district in 2001 and accordingly a local level committee was appointed which started bestowing legal guardianship of youngsters who had turned 18 with the consent of their parents. The committee has the right to complain to the area magistrate requesting action if any act of criminal nature such as fraud, forgery, defalcation or breach of trust is discovered in cases of legal guardianship. In some instances, the youngster is prone to getting harassed by the legal guardians, and the latter may be punished under relevant sections of PWD Act.
“To ensure such episodes do not happen, we have engaged 13 social workers in various talukas of the district, including psychologists and speech therapists, who pay frequent visits to the legal guardians, to ascertain whether or not they are taking adequate care of the youngsters,” said Kadam.
One such social worker Purva Joshi, who works in Baramati taluka, said she stops by at residences of thirty legal guardians every first and third Thursdays of a month. “We not only talk with the custodians, but also teach mentally challenged girls inappropriate touching by adults. We even pay surprise visits to their homes and ask neighbours if they have noticed any instances of harassment of these kids,” said Joshi.
On the other hand psychologist Sandip Shinde said that through counselling sessions he attempts to create a rapport between the teens and the guardians.
According to the statistics collated in the disability survey in India conducted in 2010, there are 19,601 people with various types of disabilities in Pune district. Among them 2,440 are mentally challenged children.