The Broad Mind | Why public policy matters

By Saurabh Chandra

 A visit to an orphanage reinstates the importance of public policy in India.

Last week, a call centre called me requesting for donations to an orphanage. On most occasions, I ignore such calls and since the collection costs charged by intermediaries are high, I prefer to pay directly for such causes. This time, I asked for the details of the place and decided to visit. A personal visit without due notice would be a good way to ascertain if the place genuinely needed support and also find the ideal way to support it.

The orphanage was in a small 3-story house close to the government school. The founder was himself an orphan and on a mission to help 500 orphans. Currently, his orphanage has 50 children, who are fed, schooled and housed. The orphanage is recognised by the child welfare department and had income tax exemptions for donations. My wife and I asked questions and interacted with the founder, a volunteer, a child and another members of the staff. The people involved seemed to have genuine intentions for this cause. Despite the fact that the landlord increased the rent every year and the difficulty of finding an alternative home, those involved in this orphanage were doing good work in the face of all challenges.

The most significant aspect of the orphanage were the children, most of whom were either playing or had gone for vacation and would be back from their native place once the schools reopened. We pondered over the idea of vacation for these orphan children and learnt that most visit their native places. Sometimes, one or both the parents of a child are deceased and extended families often want to find alternative means of providing for the child. Out of the 50 children in the orphanage, around 20 are new each year. Many children get frustrated of staying confined in it and return to their extended families. Some return only when they are old enough to earn a living (13-14 years) to be economically useful to their families. Some children are taught to outright lie about their orphan status, to gain an entry into the orphanage.

There are many parents who find the idea of an alternative body, raising their children for free (for even a year or two) too tempting to pass, especially if they are facing economic hardship. One of the basic challenges faced by this particular orphanage is how to find real orphans who need genuine care, attention and support.

Visiting this orphanage was the first hand experience of why public policy and its analysis are so much more important than merely supporting individual do-gooders. Our focus has to be on one simple question: how does a society care for its orphans? Helping individual orphanages is not the solution. This complex problem can be solved only if the state was to ascertain the background and identity of each orphan. For this, it is necessary that the police get involved and this brings us back to the question of police reforms, as most policemen are already over worked and over burdened. Also linking orphanages and adoption services is a low hanging fruit as at present they are separate. Adoption is woefully tough in India, as the procedure has been created to prevent child abuse rather than facilitate willing families to care for a child.

At the end of this, I was glad that I did not donate over the phone