CHENNAI: As the world debates ways and means to curb child sexual abuse on Wednesday, the World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse, the evil may be spreading with impunity in Chennai's backyard, Mahabalipuram.
What's more appalling, orphanages, where children are supposed to feel safe, could be turning into hotbeds of child sexual abuse.
An investigation by TOI India has revealed that orphanages - an unusually large number of them for such a small town - are flouting rules to roll out bed, breakfast and more to foreigners, some of whom could be what the world now scornfully calls 'travelling child sex offenders'.
When asked if child sexual abuse takes place in orphanages, social welfare secretary NS Palaniappan said: "These things happen in private orphanages, not in the government ones."
For the record, there are 178 private orphanages and 27 government children's homes in the state, housing 22,000 children. When asked about government monitoring of private orphanages, the secretary hastened to add: "I have not got any specific complaints recently. I will ask officials to inspect all orphanages in Mahabalipuram and take action if there is anything wrong."
There has been more than one indication that some orphanages in this tiny town of 7th century Pallava fame have been illegally soliciting foreigners willing to make 'donations.' Sample this on the visiting card of an orphanage manager: "Dear friends, we warmly greet you to our children's home which is a walkable (sic) distance from where you stay. You are invited to visit us at your convenience during your stay in Mamallapuram.
The children at this home would like to meet you, talk and play with you. They would further like to know about your country. We welcome generous donation and also accept clothes from kindhearted donors. These are accepted directly, in person, and not through mediators. So, make it a programme in tour list to visit this orphanage. Your visit to this home is most eagerly awaited."
Meanwhile, a popular travellers' guide, that suggests snorkelling in Fiji and skiing in Utah as 'things to do', offers 'visit to orphanages' when it comes to Mahabalipuram.