MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Officials in western India have set up a special investigation team to look into allegations of sexual abuse of girls at a boarding school for indigenous children after a 10-year-old was reported to be pregnant.
Parents of at least 12 girls from the school in Buldhana district of Maharashtra have filed complaints with the police, while 11 staff, including the headmaster, were arrested last week, said district police superintendent Sanjiv Baviskar.
"Women police officers have been sent to talk to the victims and record their statements. We are looking for two more suspects who have absconded," Baviskar said.
Tribal development minister Vishnu Savara said the school's registration has been cancelled and charges will be filed within a month.
The allegations come on the heels of reports of the deaths of hundreds of indigenous children in state-run schools over the past decade. The National Human Rights Commission has accused Maharashtra of negligence and asked for a report.
Maharashtra, one of the wealthiest states in the country, has about 550 boarding schools for children from poor tribal areas. Run by the state, they are meant to improve literacy levels and provide basic healthcare for the children.
The schools were set up more than two decades ago across India and are the only option for many living in remote areas.
But they are badly run, with inadequate staff and poor facilities for the students, said Vivek Pandit, founder of Shramjivi Sanghatana, which works with vulnerable people in Maharashtra.
"Officials have turned a blind eye to the appalling conditions in the schools and the routine abuse of children for years," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"If they cannot run them in a proper manner, they should shut these schools down. They should not be entrusted with the lives of vulnerable children."
Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.