India’s vast railways often lead to child trafficking


Children who work and travel on India’s vast rail network need to be educated about the dangers of human trafficking. Courtesy of Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS
  • by Umar Manzoor Shah (Karnataka, India)
  • Inter Press Service

Four months ago, a man in his mid-fifties visited them. Disguised as a businessman from Delhi, the capital of India, he first expressed his displeasure at the family’s appalling conditions. Then he offered help. The man asked Deepti if she would accompany him to Delhi where he could find her a decent job as a saleswoman or maid. He also told Deepti’s mother that if her daughter is allowed to go to Delhi, she could earn no less than 15-20,000 rupees a month – about 200-300 USD.

The money, Deepti’s mother reasoned, would be enough to lift the family out of abject poverty and hardship, enough to plan Deepti’s wedding and say goodbye to the heavy lifting of selling paperbacks about moving trains.

On the scheduled day, when the man was about to take Deepti away, a worker whose family lives next to her hut informed the police about the possible human trafficking case. The worker had become suspicious after observing the cop’s frequent visits to the mother-daughter.

When the police arrived on the scene and detained the officer, it was discovered during interrogation that he intended to sell the little girl to a brothel in Delhi.

Ramesh, a 14-year-old boy from the same state shared a similar situation. He tells how a man, probably in his late forties, offered his parents a large sum of money so that he could be adopted and properly cared for.

“My parents, who work as blue-collar workers, immediately agreed. I was supposed to go with a man – whom we had met a few days before. I was told I would have a good education, a good life, and loving parents. I wondered how an unknown man could offer us such things at such a rapid pace. I told my parents that I smelled something suspicious,” Ramesh recalled.

The next day, when the man arrived to take the boy away, the locals including Ramesh’s parents questioned him. “We called the government helpline number and the team arrived after about 20 minutes. When questioned, the man spilled the beans. He was about to sell the boy in a Middle Eastern country and get a huge amount for himself. We could have lost our child forever,” says Ramesh’s father.

According to government data, a child in India disappears every eight minutes.

As many as 11,000 of the 44,000 young people reported missing each year are still missing. In many cases, children and their low-income parents who have been promised “greener pastures” in town homes of the wealthy are grossly underpaid, mistreated, and occasionally sexually assaulted.

Human trafficking is prohibited in India as a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Constitution, but it is nevertheless an organized crime. Human trafficking is a covert crime that is typically unreported to law enforcement, and experts believe sweeping policy changes are needed to stop it and help victims recover.

Activists and members of the Belgaum Diocesan Social Service Society (BDSSS) run several child protection programs for children from poor backgrounds.

One such program is ‘Childline 1098 Collab’. A special helpline has been set up to help children in need. The helpline number is distributed all over the city so that if someone encounters a violation of children’s rights, they can call the number.

A rescue team is dispatched and immediately provides assistance to the victim.

Father Peter Asheervadappa, the director of a social service called Belgaum Diocesan Social Service Society, provides emergency and rescue services for children who are at high risk. Children and other citizens can call 1098 toll-free and the team will reach within 60 minutes to rescue the children.

“The cases dealt with are of a variety of nature: sexual abuse, physical abuse, child labour, marriage and any other abuse that harms the well-being of children,” Asheervadappa told IPS.

He adds that India’s rail network, one of the largest in the world, consists of 7,321 stations, 123,542 kilometers of track and 9,143 daily trains, transporting more than 23 million people.

“The huge network, crucial to the survival of the country, is often used for child trafficking. For this reason, our organization, and similar organizations, have argued that major train stops require specialized programs and attention. Such transit hubs serve as key outreach locations for finding and helping children when they are most in need,” he said.

But not only in these locations have the cases of human trafficking turned up. There are also child marriages of concern to activists.

Rashmi, a 13-year-old, was almost sold to a middle-aged businessman from a nearby town. In return, the rich man would take good care of the poverty-stricken family and provide for their daily needs. They just had to give them their daughter. They agreed. “Everyone wants a good life, but that doesn’t mean you have to trade your child’s life for that greed. It is immoral, unethical and illegal,” says an activist Abhinav Prasad* affiliated with the Child Protection Program.

He says many people in India are looking for child brides. They often boost their efforts in slums and areas where poor people live. There they find people in need and take advantage of their desperation for money.

While Rashmi was about to tie the knot with a man almost four times her age (50), some neighbors called the child rescue group and informed them. The team rushed to the scene and called in the police to stop the ceremony.

“Child marriage is rampant in India, but we must do our part. It is thanks to these small efforts that we can prevent the threat from spreading its terrible wings and consuming our children,” Prasad said.

*Not his real name. IPS Report of the UN Office

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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