(Prof. Sengupta is Former Chairperson, West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights. This two part series is informed by his experiences as well as expertise in the field. This is the first part.)
Over 130 children have been reported missing every day this year. About 15,988 children were reported missing this year till April 2015, of which over half (6,921) were untraced.
Times of India /TNN | Jul 24, 2015
“Children who have gone missing were at the risk of being trafficked. … Every 30 seconds a child runs away from his home!”
Devi Sirohi, Chairperson, Chandigarh Commission for Protection of Child Rights(CCPCR), Keynote address at the Workshop on Child Trafficking,12-03-2015
Trafficking & Child Trafficking
It is difficult to find a comprehensive definition of trafficking in persons. NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights) defines trafficking as trade in human, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation for the traffickers or others; or for the extraction of organs or tissues, including surrogacy and ova removal; or for providing a spouse in the context of forced marriages. Palermo Protocol defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, or force or coercion, abduction, or fraud, deception, abuse of power, position of vulnerability, giving or receiving payments/benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Thus, the thrusts of the definitions of NCPCR and Palermo Protocol are different. While the former emphasises on the purposes of trafficking, the latter’s stress is on the act itself. In any study of trafficking it is important to focus on the child trafficking as NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) Action Research has established a direct linkage between ‘Human Trafficking’ and ‘Missing Children’. Missing children are sold as bonded labourers, child prostitutes, beggars, drug peddlers, sold for illicit trading of organs etc. These children are normally from economically and socially disadvantaged marginalized sections.
Child trafficking is found in both the developed and developing countries of the world. India is a source, destination and transit country for trafficking for many purposes. Majority of children are trafficked from within the country but there are also large numbers from neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh. Most of the sex workers had entered the sex trade when they were under the age of 18. According to an estimate 40% of existing sex workers are children and there is a growing demand for young girls. An estimated 1000 to 1500 children are smuggled every year to Saudi Arabia for begging during Hajj. Rising demands of live-in-maids in urban areas have resulted in trafficking of girls from villages of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Chattishgarh. They are first placed at the mercy of “placement agencies” and then in employers’ homes. Falling sex ratio in Haryana and Punjab has led to the need of trafficking of young brides from villages of Orissa, Jharkhand, and West Bengal who are sold off by their parents. Neil Roberts, Chairperson, CWC, Chandigarh said:
Trafficking not only includes sexual exploitation but also other forms of exploitation such as unsafe agricultural labour, construction or restaurant work. False job promises, kidnapping, fraudulent marriages, sale of children are some of the modes of trafficking.
Aseem Srivastava, Member Secretary, NCPCR, in his note at the training of judicial officers, organized by CCPCR on 18.04.2015, rightly commented, “Children become sitting ducks for the traffickers”.
Poverty undoubtedly can heighten a child’s vulnerability in becoming a victim, but even if poverty is eradicated, trafficking will remain a problem. Moreover, it is too simplistic to see trafficked persons as victims only. Many are engaged in occupations such as domestic help; some are married off early; some migrate to get engaged in various industries and to seek jobs; in many cases they migrate with their family and the decision is taken by family elders. Ultimately, many of them are engaged as sex workers on part-time/full-time basis. Traffickers are often known to the trafficked/the family of the trafficked and there is initial “consent” in the whole act. This makes our task of identifying trafficked victims difficult and we have to go by our experiences mainly; some sections of IPC, like sec 366A, sec 370, sec 370A, sec 372 etc may help. However, the question of free will or consent is irrelevant in the eyes of law, for persons below the age of 18. Often, once they get the taste of a different life they could not or do not want to severe the ties. Being trapped in so-called marriage ties or economic activities, many of them dare not challenge the mafias/agents involved in the trade; many do not want to leave the world of comfort and freedom; they also fear that their families will not take them back if they return.
In 2014, for the first time, child trafficking is shown as separate entry in National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data. These data may not be very reliable as far as crime against women and children are concerned. However the records may be considered as indicative. In terms of these data one may say that child trafficking is on the rise. West Bengal occupied the second position (1119 cases) in the list (2015) of child trafficking. Following NCRB data, The Indian Express (August 31, 2016; Kolkata edition) reports, “more than 50% cases of human trafficking involved minors and close to 90% of them were trafficked to be forced into prostitution in 2015”. It is also learnt from the NCRB data that sexual offences along with kidnapping and abduction constituted 81% of all cases of crime against children in 2015, indicating 5.3% increase as compared to 2014. In West Bengal it is 80.2%.
According to Section 23 of the Indian Constitution not to be trafficked is a fundamental right. But, most reports confirm that children are sexually abused by their close relatives or other caregivers. A girl in Shahid Bandana, government-run girls’ home, Cooch Behar had been raped regularly for months by one caregiver – a man whom the girl had reasons to trust. Once detected (2016), there are legal provisions, lengthy & tedious notwithstanding, to book such culprit. But, it is not easy to rehabilitate the child because of her trauma and of societal stigma. It is comparatively easy to rescue a trafficked girl but to detain a gang of traffickers is very difficult. It is also important to ensure safe and secured life to the child after being rescued.
Aseem Sreevastav, Secretary, NCPCR recommended following measures to combat the evil named trafficking:
- Mapping of source, transit routes and destination
- Mapping of operators & their Modus Operandi
- Study socio-economic and other factors that encourage trafficking – what motivates parents/guardians to consent, income impact of trafficking
- Gaps in laws and programmes etc.
These recommendations may not be good enough but these may provide us with a starting point.
Data on missing children put out by the home ministry last month in Parliament show that over 3.25 lakh children went missing between 2011 and 2014 (till June) at an average of nearly 1 lakh children going missing every year. TOI, Aug 7, 2014.
Vibha Sharma, ‘Understanding Child Trafficking and Its Magnitude’, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279252583_Understanding_Child_Trafficking_and_its_Magnitude. Accessed on February 23, 2017.
Mr Neil Roberts, Chairperson, CWC, at Chandigarh Workshop on Child Trafficking, held on 12-03-2015