Children used for smuggling across India-Bangladesh border

While it's difficult to estimate the exact number of children involved in smuggling, according to an NGO working here, at least 300 children are used as carriers in the illegal trade in Murshidabad district alone.

Soma Bhowmick, director of the Suprava Panchashila Mahila Uddyog Samity (SPMUS), said: "People here are not well off economically and don't have even basic amenities because of which there is so much smuggling in the border areas."

"Children are extensively used in smuggling because they can gather sympathy from BSF soldiers. Women are also used for the same reason," Bhowmick told IANS. While cattle and rice are often smuggled across the border because of the price difference in the two countries, children are often used to smuggle the cough syrup, Phensedyl.

According to a BSF senior official posted in Fulbari, a border area in Murshidabad, a bottle of Phensedyl in India costs Rs.75 while in Bangladesh it costs around Rs.400. Phensedyl is also used as a narcotic drug.

"We often catch children smuggling goods, especially Phensedyl. But after seizing the goods, we let them go," said a BSF official on condition of anonymity. "If you put these children behind bars, their entire life will be spoilt. We can only hope that they are sent to school and get an opportunity to build their future," he added.

He added that in several places, like Fulbari, Phensedyl is smuggled by simply throwing it over the fence! "The BSF camp here (Fulbari) is right near the fence, but beyond the fence there is an Indian village," the official said.

"And just 300 metres from there is Bangladesh. So at times when we are not looking, Phensedyl is just thrown over the fence to the Indian village, from where it is smuggled to Bangladesh," he added.

BSF opens the gate for Indian villagers on the other side of the fence for a fixed number of hours every day. According to Bhowmick, children in smuggling are generally in the age group of 8-14.

"It's difficult to put an exact number, but, according to our study in 2007, there are at least 300 children used as carriers in smuggling in Murshidabad alone," Bhowmick said. "Most of these children have dropped out of school or are seasonal dropouts, which means when the smuggling goes up during monsoons, they drop out for two-three months and then go back to school," he added.

The smuggling nexus is a loose network of line-men, agents and carriers who facilitate the smuggling of goods. There are several legal and illegal ghats on the border which have a ghat malik or owner. While smuggling takes place through the year, it becomes more during monsoons as these ghat maliks, in exchange of money, facilitate the transportation of smugglers through boats, across the Padma river, to the other side.

Besides Phensedyl, children also smuggle rice, sugar, electronic goods and CFL bulbs. Both boys and girls are used in the illegal trade. In fact, a number of sex workers along the border said they used to smuggle goods, especially saris, when they were younger before being sucked into the sex trade.

Amina Bibi, a sex worker who hails from Rajshahi district of Bangladesh but has been living in India for the past six years, said: "I was 14-15 when I first crossed over the border to smuggle saris from India to Bangladesh to earn some money to feed myfamily."

"However, in that process I had to go through a lot of sexual violence and a huge debt started piling on my head. So I had no choice but to sell my body. That is how I landed in this work," she added.

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