Indian Catholic priest arrested, accused of violating child rights

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

January 8, 2024

By UCA News Reporter

Father Anil Mathew was well-known for his works among slum children in Madhya Pradesh state capital

A Catholic priest, who has been managing a hostel for slum kids, has been arrested on charges of violating provisions of a child protection law in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Father Anil Mathew, director of Aanchal, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working among slum children in the state capital Bhopal was arrested on Jan. 7.

The Carmelite of Mary Immaculate (CMI) priest is currently in jail as his bail plea was rejected by the court.

“We are trying for his bail,” said Father John Shibu, who is monitoring the case.

“It is a false case,” Father Shibu, also a CMI member, told UCA News on Jan.8

The priest has been working among slum children for over a decade.  However, on Jan. 4, a team led by Priyank Kanoongo, chairman of the state-run National Commission for Protection of Child Rights along with officials of the state government raided the girls’ hostel run by Father Mathew.

The team accused the priest of cruelty to children and violating provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, meant to protect children from all forms of abuse without any complaint from parents.

The team also filed a case of missing children after it noticed 26 among the 67 girls registered in the hostel were missing.

The hostel officials told the team that some girls were enjoying their year-end vacation in their homes. “But they did not listen to us,” Sanjeev Joshi, coordinator of the NGO, told UCA News on Jan.8.

The team ordered the transfer of 41 girls, aged 6 to 18, to an orphanage and refused to hand over them to their parents “until legal formalities are completed.”

“Our’s is a hostel. But they fabricated it as an orphanage,” Joshi lamented.

An official, who is part of the probe team, told UCA News that “all the missing children were found to be in their homes with their parents.”

The team accused the priest of not having a valid registration under the Juvenile Justice Act.

“Our children do not come under the category of orphans as all of them have their parents barring three,” Joshi added.

The priest offered free education to children of slum-dwellers and daily wage earners, said Jerry Paul, national president of the Sarva Isai Mahasbaha, a federation of Christian denominations.

“The child rights body carried out a targeted attack on the Christian hostel and lodged a fabricated case,” Paul said.

Madhya Pradesh has been ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2003, barring a 15-month gap in 2018. The right-wing party emerged winner in the polls held in December last year.

Tribal people and Dalits (formerly untouchables) make up about 30 percent of the population of the vital state.

Kanoongo and his team have carried out several raids on Christian hostels, orphanages, and schools and registered criminal cases, including violation of the state’s stringent anti-conversion law, against a Catholic bishop, several priests and nuns in the past year.

We have seen several surprise inspections and false cases against Christian institutions in the past, Paul said.

Christians make up 0.29 percent of more than 72 million people in the state and more than 80 percent are Hindus.