By Shambhavi Saxena:
Many of us grew up around children we knew were very different from us. We knew they would be running errands when we were sleeping in on weekends, we knew they would be tapping on car windows when we were in school. And we knew it wasn’t okay for our parents to have a child work in our house – at least most of us did. But soaring population rates and the demand for domestic labour in India’s many urban centres coupled with strict caste hierarchies, falling sex ratios and poor implementation of government schemes has meant hazardous, deprived and ugly childhoods for millions.
Child trafficking in India is not a new problem, and can therefore, be very daunting to approach. The fact that much of it remains undocumented makes it even more difficult. The Guardian estimates that about 135,000 children enter the trafficking circuit every year. Despite laws that categorically prohibit children below the age of 14 from doing skilled or unskilled work in the informal sector, many children are fated to these ‘professions’ in order to help their families stay afloat. Even the central government has used “the country’s social fabric and socio-economic conditions“ as an excuse to take a soft stand on child labour.
But where the usual channels have failed to address the problem, a young woman from Bengal has intervened in the most spectacular way.
Anoyara Khatun is an 18-year-old from Sandeshkhali, in the Sunderbans. Forced away from her home and into domestic work six years ago, today she campaigns for children’s rights and already has an impressive track record. As a result of jointly confronting former Education Minister Kanti Biswas with her young friends, Khatun’s village now has 84 schools. The Malala Fund reports that “she has helped reunite more than 180 trafficked children with their families, prevented 35 child marriages, rescued 85 children from the clutches of child labour and registered 200 students into schools.”
In addition to documenting-related difficulties, migration often becomes a smokescreen for just how bad child trafficking is. Migrant populations are prime targets for gangs, who abduct, maim, sell or enslave children from below poverty line (BPL) families, or those who look to natural disasters for opportunities. After the earthquake in Nepal, earlier this year, it was found that women and children were being trafficked to the Gulf, through India.
But Khatun, a member of Save The Children, has lit the way out of this darkness for so many children. “I myself have been trafficked and I know how painful it is,” she says. Making children the priority is the priority, and Khatun is very clear about how things should pan out: “The Government allocation for children’s education should be properly monitored. Also Government spending on children should increase.”
One of the first child delegates to sit at the recent United Nations General Assembly, Khatun witnessed the launch of 17 new Sustainable Development Goals last month.
Children, who should be getting an education and securing futures for themselves, are sold into servitude, domestic or sexual. To assume that this is an act of willful cruelty is to ignore the poverty, lack of resources and equal opportunity that India struggles with even after 15 elected governments have come and gone, and the present one remains dragging its feet.
It’s a relief to know we can count on energetic and driven young women like Khatun, who was called “Our very own Malala“ by the Calcutta Telegraph. She has been instrumental in highlighting the issue of child trafficking, not just at the national level, but on global platforms too. But the Indian people too have to step in on this. It is a burden we as citizens of India should share with this heroic young woman.
Feel strongly about child rights? Email PM Narendra Modi and show your support here!