There is now incontrovertible evidence that child trafficking is alive and kicking in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown which has not proved to be a deterrent for child traffickers, especially those operating from Bihar and with close links with their ilk as well as employers based in Delhi.
The rescue of 28 children in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, in the wee hours of August 17 and of the same number of children at Muzaffarpur in Bihar late last week attests to the continuing menace of child trafficking — a point that Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) as well as the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) have been continually claiming since weeks and months after the lockdown was imposed on March 24.
Of the 28 children rescued at Gorakhpur, 19 were found to be in the 9-16 age group, while 11 of the those rescued at Muzaffarpur were between 11 and 14 years of age. In both instances, the children were found being trafficked in buses which originated in Araria and were bound for Delhi, one of the major ‘receiving’ cities and hubs for pushing children into hazardous and other forms of dangerous labour.
The other children rescued at Gorakhpur were allowed to go, following written undertakings that their parents would not hand them over to traffickers. The 17 other children rescued in Muzaffarpur were found to be between 15 and years of age. The two rescue operations also led to the arrest of 14 (three in Muzaffarpur and 11 in Gorakhpur) alleged traffickers.
An important feature of the rescues was that in both instances information/intelligence was supplied by a team of child labour ‘survivor leaders’ who have been leading a Mukti Caravan on bicycles across 10 districts of Bihar such as Katihar, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, East Champaran, Purnea, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, Samastipur and Gaya districts. These ‘survivor leaders’ have been touring different parts of these districts and spreading awareness on disseminating information on the scourge of child trafficking.
The Mukti Caravan campaign’s focus in the northern and north-eastern districts of Bihar is primarily aimed at checking child trafficking in the backdrop of the devastating flood that has already rendered thousands of people in the countryside homeless and have exposed their children to the risk of being trafficked irrespective of the lockdown.
While FIRs were filed in both the instances, the rescued children, in accordance with the law and other regulations, were moved to children’s shelters before proceedings were taken up to record their statements and arrange their repatriation to their villages.
Both BBA and KSCF have been crying hoarse and have repeatedly sought to draw the attention of the central and state governments that irrespective of the restrictions imposed — including the movement of people — by the lockdown child labour has been continuing unabated.
The death of a 13-year-old trafficked girl child in the initial days of the lockdown, while she was walking back to her village in Chhattisgarh from a red chilli fields in Telangana, where she worked as a child labour, had earlier prompted the 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi to shoot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging a three-month impunity for employers of child labourers. And yet child labourers continued to be rescued in the course of the lockdown. BBA has so far rescued 720 children since the lockdown was clamped over India.