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May 5, 2021

SHC tells social welfare secretary to arrange surprise visits to orphanages


May 5, 2021

The Sindh High Court on Tuesday directed the secretary of the social welfare department to arrange some surprise visits to all orphanages of the province so that the actual position could be placed on record and it could be ascertained whether they were maintaining all beneficial conditions for the dwellers.

The direction came during a hearing of a petition filed by Pakisan Tehreek-e-Insaf MPA Rabia Azfar seeking strict implementation of the Sindh orphanages law and the Sindh Darul Atfal rules, as well as the issuance of a direction to the provincial government to formulate an adoption policy.

A division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar inquired the secretary of the social welfare department about the orphanages operating in the province.

The secretary filed a compliance report with regard to the operation of orphanages in the province. He submitted that 25 orphanages had been registered while three orphanages were under the process of registration.

He said four orphanages had been closed by their owner/in-charge while seven orphanages/sweet homes belonged to the Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal, while one orphanage was under construction.

The secretary of social welfare submitted that five orphanages — Edhi Shelter Home for Girls, Karachi Council for Child Welfare, Sirat-ul-Jinnah, Bilquees Edhi and Edhi Children Home Super Highway -- had not applied for the registration despite repeated notices/ correspondence.

He said an inspection was carried out after due notice, and the overall condition was found good. He further submitted that though 25 orphanages had been registered and the notices issued to some unregistered orphanages to apply and approach for registration, and if they failed to apply in terms of Section 14 of Sindh Orphanage (Supervision and Control) Act, 1978, action would be taken against them in terms of Section 25 of the same act.

The court directed the secretary of the social welfare department to arrange some surprise visits in all orphanages in accordance with Section 23 of the Orphanages law. It directed that a report of surprise visits of all orphanage should also be submitted at the next hearing.

The petitioner had earlier referred to the high court’s proceedings in a child adoption case, and submitted that reports compiled by the advocates with regard to the affairs of the orphanages painted a dreary picture and it identified that several orphanages were working without registration under the relevant authority and non-compliant to the law.

She submitted that the welfare trusts/associations in said proceedings otherwise deemed caretakers of the downtrodden had assumed the role of their oppressors and elements of human care and concern were visibly absent in the design and discharge of their affairs.

She added that most of the welfare associations/shelter homes and orphanages functioning in the province were not legally recognised by the social welfare department and they were however continuing to function unabated and unregulated.

The petitioner’s counsel said the orphanages’ law required maintaining a record of persons admitted or discharged by an orphanage; however, welfare trust/association did not maintain such record or had demonstrated a tendency to manufacture record to suit their convenience.

He stated welfare associations were facilitating adoptions without the state’s approval though there were various safeguards required to be involved before a child was surrendered to a stranger’s care and custody.

The counsel said safeguards must include a formal application process overseen by the social welfare department as well as an evaluation of the application, including by way of background and financial checks, public notice inviting objections from families and rules relating to followups with regard to the welfare of the orphans. He said that there was also need to cause a direction to the National Database Registration Authority to undertake all such measures as may be deemed necessary for the purpose of establishing a database concerning orphans.