Hand over 20 rescued children to Meghalaya chief secretary, says Madras HC

CHENNAI: Five months after 20 children from Meghalaya were 'rescued' from an unlicensed non-governmental organisation (NGO), where they had been housed without permission, Madras high court has ordered that the children be handed over to chief secretary of Meghalaya on March 13. Parents of the children could approach the chief secretary and reclaim custody of the children after due identification process, court said.

A total of 20 children were allegedly trafficked from Meghalaya and kept at the NGO in Krishnagiri district bypassing mandatory procedures. They were rescued in October 2013 after social worker A Narayanan petitioned the authorities, and then housed in a government home identified by district child welfare committee officials. They were later shifted to a licensed NGO -- Nambikkai Natchathiram in Hosur -- and provided access to medical and educational facilities, as per high court orders.

On Thursday, the first bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Satish K Agnihotri and Justice M M Sundresh, passing further orders on the writ petitions of Narayanan and others, including parents of some of the rescued children, then directed parents to approach the Meghalaya chief secretary, identify the children and take custody of their wards.

"The Tamil Nadu Child Welfare Committee is directed to produce all the children under their custody on March 13, before the chief secretary, government of Meghalaya. Thereafter, the parents of the children shall appear before the chief secretary on March 13 to identify the children and establish their identity. On such establishment of identity, the chief secretary shall handover the custody of the children to their respective parents," the judges said.

In order to ensure due compliance of the order, the judges said, "on completion of the exercise, the chief secretary shall submit a report before this court." They also recorded a statement from counsel for the chief secretary that adequate facilities were available to provide education to the rescued children.

Keeping the education of children in mind, the judges said the parents were at liberty to take their wards either to Meghalaya, or bring them back to Tamil Nadu in order to complete the present academic session in the same school where they are studying now.

Once the chief secretary files his compliance report in court, the matter would be taken for further hearing to adjudicate other issues raised in the PIL of Narayanan. The PIL has sought crucial facilities as formation of child welfare committees and juvenile justice boards with adequate infrastructure and manpower in all districts and constitution of a special anti-human trafficking unit to probe cases of child trafficking from Odisha and Meghalaya.