Children who work and travel on India’s extensive rail network need to be educated about the dangers of human trafficking. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPSby Umar Manzoor Shah (Karnataka, India)Friday 02 December 2022Inter Press Service
KARNATAKA, India, DECEMBER 02 (IPS) – Deepi Rani, 13, lives with her mother in a ramshackle house near a railway line in southern Indian state of Karnataka. The mother-daughter duo make a living selling paperbacks on trains.
Four months ago, a man in his fifties visited her. Posing as a businessman from India’s capital Delhi, he initially expressed his dismay at the family’s dire conditions. Then he offered help. The man asked Deepti if she would like to accompany him to Delhi where he could get her a decent job as a shop assistant or housemaid. He also told Deepti’s mother that her daughter could earn as much as 15-20,000 rupees a month if she were allowed to go to Delhi – around US$200-300.
The money, Deepti’s mother reasoned, would be enough to lift the family out of abject poverty and deprivation, enough to plan Deepti’s wedding and say goodbye to the tedious work of selling paperbacks on moving trains.
On the day scheduled for the man to take Deepti away, a worker whose family lives next door to her shack alerted police to a possible human trafficking case. The worker had become suspicious after observing the agent’s frequent visits to the mother-daughter.
When police arrived and arrested the agent, questioning revealed that he was planning to sell the little girl to a Delhi brothel.
Ramesh, a 14-year-old boy from the same state, shared a similar predicament. He tells how a man, probably in his late 40s, offered his parents a handsome sum of money so that he could be adopted and taken care of.
“My parents, who work as workers, readily agreed. I was supposed to go with a man – whom we had met a few days before. I was told I would get a good education, a good life, and loving parents. I wondered how an unknown man could offer us such things so quickly. I told my parents I smelled something suspicious,” Ramesh recalled.
When the man arrived to pick up the boy the next day, locals, including Ramesh’s parents, questioned him. “We called the government emergency number and the team was there in about 20 minutes. When the man was interrogated, he spilled the beans. He was about to sell the boy in a Middle Eastern country and get a huge sum for himself. We could have lost our child forever,” says Ramesh’s father.
According to the government, a child goes missing every eight minutes in India.
Up to 11,000 of the 44,000 youth reported missing each year are still missing. In many cases, children and their low-income parents who are promised “greener pastures” in urban homes of the rich end up being grossly underpaid, abused, and occasionally sexually harassed.
Human trafficking is illegal in India as a constitutional right, but it is still an organized crime. Human trafficking is a covert crime that usually goes unreported to the police, and experts believe it will take significant policy changes to stop it and help victims recover.
Activists and members of the Belgaum Diocesan Social Service Society (BDSSS) run various child protection programs for children from poor backgrounds.
One such program is Childline 1098 Collab. A dedicated hotline has been set up to help children in need. The emergency number is widely distributed throughout the city for someone who encounters a child rights violation to dial the number.
A rescue team is dispatched and provides immediate assistance to the victim.
Father Peter Asheervadappa, director of a social service called Belgaum Diocesan Social Service Society, provides emergency relief and rescue services for children at high risk. Children and other citizens can dial toll-free 1098 and the team will reach within 60 minutes to rescue the children.
“The cases handled are of a varied nature: sexual abuse, physical abuse, child labor, marriage and any other abuse that affects the well-being of children,” Asheervadappa told IPS.
He adds that India’s railway network, one of the largest in the world, consists of 7,321 stations, 123,542 track kilometers and 9,143 daily trains, carrying over 23 million people.
“The vast network that is vital to the country’s survival is often used for child trafficking. Because of this, our organization and similar organizations have argued that important train stops require special programs and attention. Such transit nodes serve as key focal points to find and help children when they are most needed,” he said.
But it is not only in these places that cases of human trafficking have surfaced. The activists also deal with child marriages.
Rashmi, a 13-year-old, was nearly sold to a middle-aged businessman from a nearby town. In return, the wealthy man would take good care of the poverty-stricken family and attend to their daily needs. All they had to do was give them their daughter. They agreed. “Everyone wants a good life, but that doesn’t mean you trade your child’s life for that greed. It is immoral, unethical and illegal,” says an activist linked to the child protection program Abhinav Prasad*.
He says that many people in India are looking for child brides. They often increase their efforts in slums and areas where poor people live. There they find people in need and exploit their desperation for money.
While Rashmi was about to tie the knot with a man (50), almost four times her age, some neighbors called the child rescue group and informed them. The team rushed to the scene and called the police to stop the ceremony.
“Child marriage is rampant in India, but we have to do our part. Thanks to these small efforts, we can prevent the menace from spreading its terrible wings and consuming our children,” Prasad said.
*Not his real name. Report of the IPS UN office
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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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