Children are ‘Not For Sale’-Menace of Child Trafficking in India

Social IssuesPhilosophy

  • Author Dr. Sanghamitra Kanjilal-Bhaduri
  • Published April 29, 2024
  • Word count 1,720

Children are ‘Not for sale’

In the words of Kofi Annan, “there is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace”.

India is home to almost 19.0 percent of the world's children. More than one-third of the country's population, around 440 million, is below 18 years. 40.0 percent of these children are in need of care and protection. In a country like India, with its multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious population, the problems of socially marginalized and economically backward groups are immense. Within such groups, the most vulnerable section is always the children. In India, a child has the right to be protected from neglect, exploitation, and abuse at home and elsewhere. Children have the right to be protected from the incidence of abuse, exploitation, violence, neglect, commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labour, and harmful traditional practices to name a few. Yet, according to a study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) in 2007, more than 69.0 percent of children aged 5 to 18 years old are victims of abuse. There are many who face humiliation and violence every day. So, for the MoWCD, the challenge is to reach out to the most vulnerable and socially excluded children of this country and create an environment wherein every child is protected.

Rights of children are the most endorsed in the history of Human Rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) defines Child Rights as the minimum entitlements and freedoms that should be afforded to every citizen below the age of 18 years regardless of race, national origin, colour, gender, language, religion, opinion, wealth, birth status, disability, or other characteristics . India, as a signatory to the UNCRC, is committed to guaranteeing the four basic rights, that of survival, protection, participation, and development to every child. It is generally understood that violation of the rights of the child is caused by myriad interconnected issues like social structure, poverty and absence of food security, poor availability and access to public education and basic health services, scarce and fragile livelihood opportunities for the families and scrawny enforcement of legal frameworks, none of which should be seen in isolation.

According to Terre des Hommes (Tdh) Child Protection-Manual for intervention in humanitarian crisis, ‘Child Protection implies the interdisciplinary measures undertaken to guarantee the survival and acceptable development of children, in respect of their rights. Tdh does not consider protection uniquely as a preventive action but as an action focused as well on the provision of services until the child is no longer at risk.’ According to UNICEF, once children are born and survive, they have the right to be protected from all forms of abuse, exploitation and harm. They must be protected from physical violence and psychological intimidation may they be within and outside their families, right from before their birth. The right to protection also includes being protected from child labour and tasks that are dangerous or impede their education. Likewise, children must be protected from harmful substances and drugs, trafficking, smuggling, kidnapping, sexual abuse and all forms of exploitation. For children separated from their families, they have the right to be protected and cared for with respect to their ethnic background, language, religion, and culture.

Key Drivers

Every day, around 150 children go missing in India – kidnapping and abduction are the largest crime against children in our country. Shockingly, over the last 10 years, crimes against children have increased five times over . According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) report, ‘Crimes in India, 2019’, a total of 1,48,185 crimes were committed against children during 2019, showing an increase of 4.5 percent over 2018. The major crimes committed were kidnapping and abduction (46.6 percent) and sexual offenses (POCSO) (35.3 percent), including child rape. As per the NCRB crime report 2019, there were 731 victims of child trafficking under 421 registered cases. The number of reported cases of kidnapping and abduction of children which amount to child trafficking has increased by 571 percent and procurement of minor girls has increased by 885 percent between 2004 and 2014 .

A large number of children are trafficked not only for the sex ‘trade’ but also for other forms of non-sex-based exploitation that includes servitude of various kinds such as domestic labour, industrial labour, agricultural labour, and for begging, organ trade and false marriage. Government testimony has often found interconnectivity between child marriage and trafficking for sexual exploitation as well as child labour. Census 2011 reports 1.01 crore working children (main or marginal) in the age group of 5-14 years which is close to 4.0 percent of total such children. Out of the total boys in the same age group, 4.15 percent are working, while the figure among girls is 3.63 percent. It further states that about 22.0 percent of the total child labour originates from Uttar Pradesh, followed by about 11.0 percent from Bihar, i.e., about one-third of the child labour in the country is contributed by these two states. Migration is recognised as a major contributor to child labour as children do not work in their respective districts or states. Children, particularly from West Bengal and Bihar, migrate to states like Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana for work.

Gender skewed trafficking

An area of concern is the gender skewing among the trafficked and missing children. More than 70 percent of the trafficked children are girls, who are often forced into prostitution and begging rackets and are destined for a life of child abuse and exploitation. Child marriage is an important determinant in this aspect. It is a gross violation of human rights. Every child has the right to be protected from this harmful practice, which has devastating consequences for individuals as well as society. Child marriage is now firmly on the global development agenda, most prominently through its inclusion in SDG target 5.3, which aims to eliminate the practice by 2030. Although indicator 5.3.1 measures child marriage among girls, the practice occurs among boys as well. Regardless of gender, marriage before adulthood is a breach of children’s rights. According to UNICEF (2014), almost half of all girls in South Asia (46 percent) aged 20-24 years reported being married before the age of 18 years, while one in five girls (18 percent) were married before the age of 15 years. As per the Census 2011, 2.2 percent of children in the age group of 10-14 years were married. The proportion was higher for girls (2.86 percent) as compared to boys (1.59 percent). As the age increases, the proportion of girls getting married increases almost four times, as 10.5 percent of girls in the 15-17 age group were married. NFHS-4 (2015-16) data shows that 27 percent of women aged 20-24 years were found married before the age of 18 years, whereas this proportion was 47 percent according to NFHS-3 (2005-06). As trafficking often occurs under the garb of marriage, it is difficult to identify any particular incident. Hence, when questioned, the various stakeholders, including young boys and girls of affected areas, do not provide any direct reference to the fact. This could be for various reasons starting with the fact that trafficking being an organised crime, there might have been a perceived threat from the trafficker in the community. Furthermore, families of victims are reluctant to pursue cases of trafficking from fear as well trending archaic social norms of maintaining family honour. The other factor why trafficking has not come up vividly is the fact that in India, crimes against children are still under-reported and there are several instances where the First Information Report (FIR) has not been recorded. This highlights invisibility of trafficking, which is deemed as a social and administrative failure.

Child Protection- Gaps and Failures

The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) was launched in 2009 because child protection is integrally linked to every other right of the child based on the cardinal principles of ‘protection of child rights’ and ‘best interest of the child’ . The ICPS is meant to improve the wellbeing of children in difficult circumstances, as well as to enable contraction of vulnerabilities to situations and actions that lead to abuse, neglect, exploitation, abandonment, and separation of children from their families. Rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked children are also important components of the ICPS. However, the existing administrative structure for implementing ICPS is still quite weak. The scheme was revised and subsequently, it came under the umbrella of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) as a sub-scheme and is known as Child Protection Services (CPS) in 2017. The national policy for children was adopted in 2013 reiterating the commitment to rights-based approach for the children and laying down the principles to be followed in that regard. The state governments prepare the State Action Plan for the Children (SPAC), which provides a road map for ensuring their protection and wellbeing.

Despite all these efforts, there are several gaps, in the form of inadequate provision of social protection or invisibility of the act of trafficking that must be filled in by stakeholders at all levels to tackle child trafficking in India more effectively. Towards this end, it is important to take up more research to understand and quantify the offense more accurately, as well as assess those forces of supply and demand that allow the crime to persist. Hence, there is a need to generate a comprehensive all India based data set on child trafficking in most of its forms and to develop an exhaustive understanding of the phenomenon of child trafficking, with a view to facilitate the formulation of appropriate policies and programmes meant to effectively curb and control the problem in India. In recent times the problem of child trafficking has emerged as an important social issue in many parts of the world, including India. The proliferation of this crime has been so extensive that, presently, almost every Indian state is affected with this social and criminal nuisance. Prevention of child trafficking is essential and a number of child friendly Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are working on multiple fronts to contribute their best to confront this crime. Keeping the limitation of the existing studies on this subject and continued high volume of child trafficking in the country in view, there is a need to conduct nation-wide research studies to assess the prevalence and trends of child trafficking and understand the causes and challenges to combat the problem in India.

Dr. Sanghamitra Kanjilal-Bhaduri is an independent researcher possessing expertise in studying the intersectionality of gender relations. Her research focusses on role of cultural and institutional factors of female employment under the social hierarchy and interaction of class, caste and religion in Indian economy.

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