Children being sold like commodities – does that really happen in the 21st century?
What seems unimaginable is, however, a bitter reality for millions of girls and boys all over the world. They are the victims of an unscrupulous but profitable business that meets an international demand. Trafficking children is a free market in its most brutal form, a billion-dollar business for those pulling the strings in the background and those who exploit the victims.
Child trafficking is a crime known the world over and that stops at no borders. Girls and boys are sold to be used as cheap labor, prostitutes or thieves, beggars or drug couriers. Babies are also traded for commercial adoptions and girls for arranged marriages. Frequently the children of impoverished parents (or their parents) are attracted by false promises of training or good earnings, since they generally lack money and any prospect of a good life.
In March 2008, a boy from Bangladesh was brought to India under the false assumption that he would be the cook for a family. In the hope of being able to contribute financially to his family, the fourteen year old boy was unknowingly brought to Delhi by a trafficker with the intention of pushing him into committing illegal activities, more specifically theft and murder. The boy was later apprehended by the police in Delhi for administering a poisonous substance in the food he had prepared for the family. Although the boy acknowledged the kindness of his employer and admitted to the charges that were laid against him, he was vulnerable and a victim of his compelling circumstances. The trafficker had threatened the boy that he would never go back and see his family again. The pressured boy felt he could do nothing but commit this heinous crime.
For traffickers, human life is an object that is a means to facilitate their objectives. The cruelty and lack of compassion for human life is evident in the case illustrated above. Even after the boy handed over the stolen goods such as gold and jewellery, the trafficker was infuriated at the boy for not stealing enough. The teenager was summoned and returned back to Bangladesh. Thankfully, the trafficker later had charges laid against him.
Human trafficking in India, whereby children are traded for criminal acts, points to organized trafficking gangs. Children are not only used as slaves, but are also being used as modern day criminals to inflict violence on others, particularly their domestic employers, for theft and robbery- an issue that has not often drawn public attention as of yet.
Another somewhat similar crime was reported in Lucknow in 2008 where a woman in her seventies and her family, along with two young women, were killed and later robbed by their domestic helpers. This case and many more that have been brought before the Juvenile justice Boards (JJBs) deal with vulnerable children who are deceived and recruited by people in authority, with the false pretense that they will work as domestic labors. The children are embraced by their traffickers and then forced to harm their employers.
The degree of the demeaning acts that traffickers force these innocent children into doing is shocking and difficult to process. There can be no monetary value on human life. So when one asks what the reason for all this human degradation is, they are most likely left with a simple answer: “it is for the purpose of monetary benefit.”
One may place the blame on the child for not approaching the authorities or the family that he is being compelled to hurt. One may also assume that the child may do such an act for his own monetary benefit. However, when a child is exploited in vulnerable circumstances and has not developed vital (and essential) mental and physical maturity, he is unable to process his way out of the exploitative situation.
Such trafficked children have been first produced before the Juvenile Justice Boards, where adjudication and subsequent rehabilitation are handled. However, several child right activists and lawyers have expressed their concerns for the appropriate authority to deal with these cases.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau, 32,681 juveniles are arrested by police every year in India on charges of murder, rape, dacoity, robbery, burglary, theft, hurt and other crimes. Six percent of them are girls. Juvenile delinquency has increased by 1.1 per lakh of population in 1995 to 1.7 per lakh of population in 2008. Poverty and illiteracy were the two main causative factors behind this. In all, 27 per cent of the arrested juveniles were illiterate, 37 per cent under primary, 72 per cent from the BPL families, 6.8 per cent from the middle income group and 0.2 per cent from the high income group. The ill-effects of juvenile delinquency can be mitigated if the fundamental principles for the administration of juvenile justice are put into practice.
Even if the JJBs continue to take care of such children, the crucial question that arises is whether these authorities should bring adult traffickers to justice or not?
The amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act empowers the Juvenile Justice Boards to take cognizance of acts of cruelty against children. Yet, neither the police nor the Boards have bothered to look into the involvement of organized groups or non- organized individuals. It is essential for the authorities to prepare social investigation reports (SIRs) and social background reports (SBRs) of children involved in such cases to assess the quantum of child abuse. In cases wherein SIRs and SBRs confirm the role of adults, it is imperative for the JJBs to act against such adults so that no child is exploited for his/her vulnerability and then be punished for it in the future.
Hence, it can be concluded that trafficking in human beings, especially children, is a form of modern day slavery and requires a holistic, multi-sectoral approach to address the complex dimension of the problem. It is a problem that violates the rights and dignity of the victims and therefore requires, essentially, a child’s rights perspective while working on its eradication. In the fight against trafficking, government organizations, non- governmental organizations, civil society, pressure groups and international bodies; all have to play an important role. Law cannot be the only instrument to take care of all problems.
Ministry of Women and Child Development, Govt. of India, www.wcd.nic.in
The writer is a correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz.