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May 31, 2021

Issues found in orphanages during surprise visits, SHC told

Several problems were found in some orphanages in the province during recent surprise visits of the provincial social welfare department director general, the social welfare secretary has told the Sindh High Court (SHC) in a recent hearing.

The high court had earlier directed the secretary to arrange surprise visits to all the orphanages in the province so that their actual position could be placed on record and it could be ascertained whether they were maintaining beneficial conditions for the dwellers.

The direction was given 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.

Filing a report before the SHC, the social welfare secretary submitted that the director general paid surprise visits to 11 orphanages in Karachi and found some discrepancies there, including lack of cleanliness, proper living conditions and playgrounds for the children.

The high court was told that 25 orphanages had been registered while three orphanages were in the process of registration. The secretary said four orphanages had been closed by their owner/in-charge, seven belonged to the Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal and one orphanage was under construction.

The secretary 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 registration despite repeated notices.

He submitted that final notices had been issued to some unregistered orphanages telling them to apply for registration, and if they failed to do so in terms of the Section 14 of the Sindh Orphanage (Supervision and Control) Act, 1978, action would be taken against them in terms of the Section 25 of the same Act.

A division bench of the SHC headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar, after taking the report on record, adjourned the 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 identified that several orphanages were working without registration under the relevant authority.

The PTI MPA had submitted that the welfare trusts/associations in the said proceedings otherwise posed themselves as caretakers of the downtrodden but they had assumed the role of oppressors as elements of human care were visibly absent in the design and discharge of their orphanages.

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

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

The counsel said the safeguards included a formal application process overseen by the social welfare department as well as an evaluation of the application through background and financial checks, and public notice inviting objections from families and rules relating to follow-ups with regard to the welfare of the orphans.

He said that there was also a need for issuing a direction to the National Database and Registration Authority to undertake all such measures as may be deemed necessary for the purpose of establishing a database concerning orphans.

Students’ expulsion

The SHC directed students who were expelled by a private university for staging a protest demonstration at the Karachi Press Club against physical appearance in exams, to submit their written apology to the vice chancellor (VC) of the university and thereafter their admissions/enrolment would be restored as agreed by the VC.

The direction came on a petition of students who had challenged their expulsion from the private university for agitating against the university’s decision with regard to physical exams during the Covid-19 pandemic. They said that they were discriminated among 200 students who also participated in the protest demonstration against the university’s decision with regard to the physical appearance of the students in the exams.

A counsel for the private university submitted that the petitioners had committed some act of misconduct and caused a defamatory campaign against the university through social media, and also used abusive language to provoke other students.

He said that they were called upon to explain their positions and the matter was placed before a disciplinary committee, which, after considering all pros and cons and providing fair opportunity of defence to the students, referred the matter to the disciplinary tribunal which decided to expel the petitioners.

The petitioners voluntarily offered to tender unconditional apology in presence of the VC provided their enrolment was restored by the university. Taking a lenient view and on consideration of saving the career of the petitioners, the VC agreed to accept their apology on condition that after the restoration of their enrolment, they would not repeat such act of misconduct.

The father of one of the petitioner students at this juncture requested that in case the petitioners did not want to continue their studies in the respondent institution, the VC be directed to issue transcripts to such students so that they could apply for admission to some other institution.

The VC categorically stated that if the petitioners wanted their transcripts, that would be issued by the varsity so that they might continue their studies in any other university.