Childhood's end in harsh city

Childhood's end in harsh city

Not just Falak: A trafficking hub, Delhi reports most missing children among all metros

Battered, bitten and left with broken skull at the trauma centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, baby Falak and  the teenager who brought her there after herself being sexually abused are only the latest faces of child abuse.

Activists say thousands of such cases go unreported every year in India. Even among the reported cases, only 34 per cent end up in conviction. And 11 children go missing in India every hour.

Many of  the missing children could be end up being trafficked, forced to work in dangerous or tiring occupations, driven into sex trade or made to beg at traffic signals.

There has beeen little effort at keeping and sharing records of missing children across the states. Activists also complain about the lack of  a `substantive' law against trafficking.

National Crime Record Bureau's 2010 report says kidnapping and abduction cases have gone up countrywide by 600 per cent since 1976.  And, according to child right groups, police reports have been registered only in 15 per cent of missing children incidents in the Capital.

According to the data provided by government agencies, 1,17,480 children went missing in 392 districts in India between January 2008 to 2010. A Right to Information petition filed by child rights group Bachpan Bachao Aandolan (BBA) revealed that police reports were filed for 785 children who disappeared in Delhi last year.

Atogether 24,744 children were officially reported missing from the major metropolitan citie. Delhi topped the list with 12 per cent of the total. 

The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) says the government does not have any mechanism to map missing children in the country.

“We have seen children return to work even after a rescue as there is no committee which maintains a record of children who are trafficked and go missing. Most of these children are migrants and the government does not follow up with the families about their whereabouts after their rescue,” said DCPCR member Shashank Shekhar.

Child Labour

Delhi's labour department runs nine family counselling centres, but Shekhar doesn't think much of them. “These centres are not able to provide counselling. They were allotted to different NGOs but I have not seen much progress as there is negligible counselling of children and parents,” he said.

Official estimates say more than 50,000 children are forced into bonded or domestic labour in Delhi. But activists estimate that more than two lakh children are engaged in such work, which   violates their basic rights and deprives them of education and good health.

“More than half of these children are exposed to the worst forms of child labour. What is the government doing to prevent child abuse in Delhi? Nothing significant. For instance in baby Falak's case, the police was supposed to register a missing person's case for the 15-year-old girl but they did not,” says lawyer Bhuvan Ribhu

In a sample survey in Delhi of 1090 rescued child labourers in 2011, BBA found that 57 per cent worked for more than 12 hours a day, 43 per cent were not given any wages and six per cent were given wages which were below Rs 50 per day. At least 454 children worked as bonded labourers but FIRs were filed only for 50 of them.

Justice Altamas Kabir, Supreme Court judge and executive chairperson of National Legal Services Authority, says, “It is difficult to define the term `missing' children'. But it is not impossible. We have to look for a way to combine the duties of the legal and civil systems.” He added it was essential to spread the message that it is a crime to keep a minor as a domestic servant.

Activists claim that over 2,000 placement agencies engage in illegal activities in the city. They force minors to work as domestic help, placing them in situations where they are abused in some manner – physically, mentally or sexually.

“They are not given money, they are beaten up and even raped by placement agency owner and the household members,” said Dr Shobha Vijender, former Child Welfare Committee (CWC) member. She added that these agencies are involved in sex rackets which are difficult to detect as most of these places are not registered. The Supreme Court had asked the Delhi’s labour department in 2009 to register all placement agencies but only a few have been registered so far.

Child rights groups say there are close to two lakh children living on the streets of Delhi; out of them 50,000 children have no family.

 “We get at least three new children every day at New Delhi railway station who have run away from home or are trafficked to Delhi. These children are then handed over to police who present them before the CWC,” said Poonam Sharma, member of Salaam Baalak Trust. Most street children either beg or sell small items such as pens, books, magazines and toys.

“Children mostly in 8-16 age group are found to be taking drugs in the form of solvents, inhalers, thinner, heroin and alcohol. They do not have money to eat or buy clothes so they depend on drugs to survive during extreme weather, and they sell drugs to earn money for survival,” said Rajiv Shaw, member of Sharan, an NGO.

According to a 2011 RTI filed by BBA, the labour department received Rs 11.5 crore in 2005 for rehabilitation of children who have been victims of any form of abuse. On June 9, the department had Rs three crore left as unused funds.

Minimum wages

“The law has made it mandatory for the government to recover minimum wages of every child rescued from the employer. Government statistics say that 1,465 children below the age of 14 were rescued since 2009. Ideally, the government should have recovered Rs 2 crore but till the end of 2011 they had recovered only Rs 20 lakh.

Our main agenda is to make the system work but that is highly unlikely if authorities do not co-operate,” said Ribhu. DCPCR believes that the existing child protection mechanism should be strengthened by creating a common platform for committees such as CWC, Special Juvenile Police Unit, district task force and the labour department, to ensure better results. “Rehabilitation of children should be included in schemes at the source state so that children do not return to Delhi as they are in need of care and protection,” said M.M. Vidyarthy, member DCPCR.