NCPCR alleges conversion, illegality and ‘missing girls’ against Christian Hostel in Bhopal

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A controversy erupted in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, when Priyank Kanoongo, the chairman of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), made sensational allegations of missing girls from a girl’s hostel run by a Christian organisation. The claims, posted on on January 5, created a storm of concern, and prompted swift action, including the arrest of the hostel manager, Fr. Anil Mathew, and the suspension of three officials from the Madhya Pradesh Women and Child Department. A day later, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav confirmed the identification and safety of all the girls previously thought to be missing.

On January 5, Kanoongo made explosive allegations on, claiming that during a surprise check on an "unlicensed child centre" run by a missionary, he and his team discovered that 26 girls were missing. He asserted that the NGO operating the centre, which had previously worked as a Child Line partner, was running without a licence. Furthermore, he alleged that the girls, aged between 6 and 18, were being kept secretly and forced to practise Christianity. The gravity of the situation prompted former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to call for immediate government action.

The aftermath of Kanoongo's claims led to a First Information Report (FIR), under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and the arrest of Fr. Mathew, as well as the sealing of the NGO’s offices.

Also, three officials from the Women and Child Department were suspended, while two were issued show cause notices. As Chief Minister Yadav promised strict action against any mismanagement, the Bhopal District Collector Kaushlendra Vikram Singh took to and updated on the actions taken on the matter, and asserted that the information about the disappearance of the girls was not correct.

A day later, Chief Minister Yadav confirmed on that all the allegedly missing girls had been identified and were safe in their homes. This revelation raised questions about the accuracy of the initial claims and the urgency with which the matter was handled.

As the details unfolded, it became apparent that the sensationalism surrounding the missing girls had obscured a more nuanced reality. Aanchal Hostel, where the girls were temporarily lodged following legal procedures, had enrolled 68 girls, but only 41 were present during the surprise inspection. Fr. Mathew had informed the authorities that 26 girls had returned to their homes.

Sources close to Aanchal contested the sensationalised news, asserting that a register with the names and signatures of parents of departing students was meticulously maintained. They claimed that during the inspection, officials took away the register and distorted the news, contributing to the heightened sense of urgency and concern.

Bhopal (Rural) Superintendent of Police Pramod Kumar Sinha added another layer to the narrative, suggesting that the girls may have left the hostel voluntarily due to homesickness.

The "surprise check," as confirmed by Kanoongo to The Hindu, was prompted by a tip-off received by his team. He further alleged that several other ChildLine centres in the State were being run “illegally and involved in various malpractices”. “At this centre in Tarasewaniya, the management was involved in malpractices such as getting the girl inmates to practise Christianity and keeping orphan girls, even from other districts,” he said to The Hindu.

Aanchal, in a press note released by Fr. Johnshibu Pallipat, clarified their position asserting that 26 girls left voluntarily and returned home with their parents. Pallipat elucidated that Aanchal operated as a girl's hostel, not a children's home, and all admissions were made with written consent from parents. The hostel had self-registered online, following the directives of the School Education Department of the Madhya Pradesh government.

NCPCR under the leadership of Kanoongo, has frequently been in the news for conducting raids on Christian children homes and hostels, often alleging conversions. A report titled ‘How Hindutva hijacked India’s child protection body’ by The Scroll in February 2022, had pointed out that in recent years, the NCPCR had ‘devoted considerable attention to poorly substantiated complaints against minority communities.’

Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, Vivek Tankha criticised the NCPCR on X for being wayward and sensational. On January 7, he posted on X highlighting the need for reigning in the NCPCR for getting wayward and sensational. He claimed that it gave a bad image to the government and hampered the nation’s ambition to become a global power and a multi-trillion dollar economy.