The news of two minors who were shackled to a tree at a rehabilitation centre spread like wildfire across social media recently. The teenagers, aged 16 and 14, were residents of Sheikh Russell Child Training and Rehabilitation Center (SRCTRC), which houses street children and those who are vulnerable. They were reportedly being punished by a senior resident of the centre.
The two were sent to the centre, situated in Barishal city, on December 12 last year, after a Jhalakathi court order over a criminal case, although the centre is not supposed to house those accused or convicted of criminal activities.
But the centre that is supposed to rehabilitate these young residents was way off their goal. One of the victims managed to flee following the incident which happened in mid-January. After a report on this was published, which went “viral” on social media, District Social Service authorities formed a three-member probe committee, led by its assistant director Shahidul Islam.
They were asked to submit a report to the authorities within three working days, confirmed AL Mamun Talukder, deputy director of District Social Service Department yesterday.
Barishal Deputy Commissioner SM Ajiar Rahman, also president of SRCTRC managing committee, said authorities found evidence that the incident did occur, after preliminary investigation.
After visiting the centre at the city’s Rupatali area, this reporter found that although the centre is supposed to support children return to a normal life, it is devoid of any recreational facilities. The premises are always unsupervised and the building looks abandoned.
Although the entrance should be gated as per the rules, it was found that no security guard was on duty in front the main gate. Fifteen staffers are currently appointed under a project director to operate and supervise both centres, said Basu Deb Debnath, assistant project director of SRCTRC. But during the visit, the reporter could only find three.
“The centre was established to only accommodate six to 18-year-olds who are from the streets or vulnerable, for a maximum of two years,” said Debnath. “Later, we were informed that two youths were sent to the centre and were then chained and punished by another resident of the facility. We informed higher authorities about the matter.”
Debnath acknowledged that four children of the centre, including one of the victims, fled during the last three weeks.
After talking with the boys, it was learnt that at least seven boys went missing during the last few months. Besides them, five more returned to the centre few months ago after they had fled.
Children of the centre told The Daily Star that seniors often punish juniors, even beat them up, if they show any indiscipline.
Mehedy (16), a tenth-grader of Water Development Board School and a resident of the centre, confessed to law enforcement agency that he shackled and beat Hazrat and Jisan, as they had broken into a room and smoked there.
“We seniors have to supervise juniors and punish when they break the rules,” he added.
Hazrat, one of the victims, confirmed the incidents Mehedy narrated, saying after the punishment, Jisan fled.
Basudeb Das, the centre in-charge, said, “Sometimes, a few boys manage to flee and some come back…We only advise seniors to take care of their juniors, not torture them. We only came to know about the incident after the news was published.”
DC Ajiar said, “The centre was established by renting a house, and the environment is not suitable for sheltering minors accused in criminal cases.”
The district administration asked the centre’s authorities to inform the court about the centre’s situation (which they already did), and steps will be taken as per the court order.
SRCTRC was established in 2012. The four-storey building is currently accommodating 76 boys. Another building, which houses 86 girls, is situated opposite to the boys’ building. The Ministry of Social Welfare had adopted a project titled “Disability and Children at Risk (DCAR)”, under which 13 such rehabilitation centres, including SRCTRC, are being operated across the country.