The latest case of "mass sexual abuse" where 21 of the 41 minor girls were found to be sexually abused at a government-funded shelter home, Seva Sankalp Samiti, in the eastern state of Bihar, in India, has jolted the nation once again.
Calling it a "heinous crime," "The state government is committed to an impartial probe into it," a statement issued by the Chief Minister's office in Bihar's capital, Patna stated. The local government also announced that it would hand over the case to the national investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, CBI.
"There is a complete cycle of abuse that takes place," Prabhat Kumar, head of child protection at the charity Save the Children in India, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Children are neglected, which impacts their self-esteem and then they become targets, (they) are exploited - both physically and sexually."
On Monday, the police raided the premises and rescued 44 girls, with 11 employees of the shelter home who have been placed under arrest. The same day, authorities made efforts to exhume the bodies of girls who were allegedly killed after being raped and buried there.
Advocates say girls and women in unregistered homes are at risk as the conditions often go uninspected, the staff is not adequately trained, and often measures aren't taken to safeguard the place, as required by the law.
"The children ... become invisible," said Anant Kumar Asthana, a child rights lawyer who advises juvenile homes on legal compliance, the Times of India reported. According to the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), there are nearly 7,300 care homes in India, home to some 230,000 children.
And around 1,300 of these shelters are unregistered, meaning they operate illegally with little or no oversight.
"We have a lot of laws in place, but states and authorities must absolutely enforce them, otherwise children at these homes are left vulnerable to all kinds of abuses," said Priyank Kanoongo, a member of the NCPCR.
According to a Reuters report, in 2016, over 100 cases of women being raped were recorded daily.
Allegations of sexual abuse at the shelter first surfaced in May, after Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), conducted a social audit and submitted a 100-page report to the Bihar government. Soon after, authorities sealed the home and rescued the 21 girls.
Earlier in April, in response to a string of horrific sexual attacks and murders, India also approved the death penalty for anyone convicted of raping a girl under the age of 12.