Photo Credit : Pixabay
Mangaluru: Every 8th minute, a child goes missing in our country, amounting to an estimated 96,000 missing children each year. Many children are trafficked across the country, forcibly separated from their families. This trade coerces millions into harsh labor, the sex industry, and domestic slavery, all for profit. Despite governmental attempts to combat this trade, it continues to surge. Surprisingly, this issue rarely garners significant news coverage or prompts strong public or political action to address it.
According to recent information from Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani in Lok Sabha, India has witnessed over 275,000 reported cases of missing children in the past five years, with over 240,000 of them successfully located. Notably, among these missing children, approximately 212,000 were girls, outnumbering boys by more than threefold, accounting for 62,000 boys.
A BBC report indicates that around 70,000 children are reported missing from the country every year. The actual number could be higher, as many cases go unreported. The intricate network behind this extensive trafficking industry remains a mystery that neither the government nor officials have been able to fully unravel.
Major reasons contribute to this issue:
1. Poverty: The majority of child trafficking victims come from economically disadvantaged and remote parts of the country. These children’s parents are often unemployed or lack the means of earning a livelihood. Consequently, they struggle to provide essentials such as clothing, education, books, and even food. In dire circumstances, these families may feel compelled to abandon or sell their children.
2. Lack of Education and Awareness: Illiteracy significantly contributes to the vulnerability of children, especially girls, by limiting their knowledge of legal rights. This lack of education becomes a significant factor in human trafficking. Limited access to proper education results in illiteracy, which hampers their ability to take action against those who exploit them.
In some rural villages in the worst-affected states, such as Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Rajasthan, it’s shocking to realize that even family members are involved in the trafficking process.
Once trafficked, these victims are often subjected to harsh labor, the sex industry, and domestic slavery. According to recent information, out of the 275,125 missing children, 240,502 were eventually found. However, fewer than 5% of trafficking cases in India lead to convictions.
Various reports suggest that traffickers earn a significant amount per child, and the well-organized multi-million-dollar system that ensnares children in slave labor and prostitution continues to operate unchecked in the country.
To prevent and address this issue, The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) serves as the primary legal framework aimed at preventing trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. Additionally, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) includes provisions designed to tackle the issue of trafficking involving children.
Efforts to combat this issue include the Ministry’s portal named TrackChild, which features a module called ‘Khoya-Paya’ that empowers citizens to report cases of missing or found children. In the past year, the Ministry streamlined its child-related initiatives and programs under Mission Vatsalya, consolidating four portals – TrackChild, CARINGS (for child adoption), ICPS portal (for scheme monitoring), and Khoya-Paya (a citizen-oriented app for missing and found children) – into a single unified platform.
The development of the TrackChild portal was a collaborative effort involving the Ministry of Home Affairs, Railways, state governments, Child Welfare Committees, Juvenile Justice Boards, National Legal Services Authority, and other stakeholders. Moreover, it seamlessly integrates with the Crime and Criminal Tracking & Network Systems (CCTNS) of the Ministry of Home Affairs. This integration enhances coordination and data matching, facilitating the tracing and locating of missing children.
In 2020, India improved its ranking by six places, moving up from the 65th position in 2019 as the best country for raising children. However, a pressing question remains: why does a prevalent nationwide practice in the country involve separating children from their families?