Beyond the headlines of child trafficking

Footnotes from a Diary

By Chitra Ahanthem

There is a saying that there are times when the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. An easy example is that of the various Government Departments in the State that often work on a scattered train of activities. Often, it is common to have a road dug up first for its repairs, which will take its own sweet time as is happening in the case of Waheng Leikai. After the repairs gets done in some months (if lucky) the same road gets dug up for water pipe installation and yet again for the sewerage/drainage system yet again. Naturally, it leads to long spells of great inconvenience to the public but also means that different departments will be spending money on the same thing while some amount of planning and co-ordination could have let to cost cutting and saved up on time too.
This same analogy is also mirrored in how various systems handling cases of child trafficking in Bishenpur district though a gut feeling also says that the same situation would prevail in the other districts as well. Those who follow news will only be too mindful that media reports of late have uncovered cases of child trafficking: there have been too many cases of children being rescued from different parts of the country and reports of how parents end up giving way their children to people with only religious antecedents but no credibility or legal process. But the question that begs to be answered is this: what happens of the children who are rescued? What happens of the people found to have been involved in the trafficking? There are additional questions of whether parental “consent” to agents taking way children for education purposes means that those involved are clear of trafficking charges but this time, we shall look at existing systems or rather the lack of them that are fueling more incidences of trafficking and poor conviction rates.

A media assessment visit* to various agencies in Bishenpur district brought home the fact that there is no longer any denial of cases of trafficking taking place in the area but that there is not much happening beyond this token acknowledgement. While earlier “rescue of trafficked children” reports show that most children come from the district, there seems to be no effective mechanism of support mechanisms or even effective advocacy with parents, community leaders, the police and the legal system. In an interaction with the Additional Superintendent of Police, Bishenpur District, the media team was told that till date only one FIR had been lodged which is being taken up by the police. The district’s Child Welfare Committee (CWC) on the other hand, which has the responsibility of ensuring the protection of the rights of children and to take necessary steps in this direction passed on the buck to police officers. Their main grouse was that police on duty often refused to take down their complaints often saying that parents had given their consent for their children to be taken away. On their part, the police at the senior level were well aware and knowledgeable but unfortunately, they are not the ones taking down complaints. The Additional Superintendent on his part gave us a briefing on how efforts at co-ordinating a concerted effort with various departments: Social Welfare and the Law Department did not materialize after repeated attempts.
To make matters worse, there is little institutional support systems in the district: no Government recognized Children Homes, no juvenile homes for children found to be involved in criminal cases and certainly, no qualitative and sustained counseling processes for children who have been rescued. Members of the Child Welfare Committee said that rescued children were often given counseling (what sort?) for one day when they were brought to the Observation Home at Takyel. The CWC on its part seems to be a body without a clear documentation of cases happening within their purview. Two members of the Committee that the media team spoke too and representatives of an NGO working in the area of child rights had different numbers of cases they were dealing with. Yet, the police official informed us that only one case was registered.

This then begs a question: why isn’t the CWC and in extension, the Social Welfare Department active enough? In case the police do not know what areas are considered grounds for taking up a case of trafficking against agents and recruiters, there needs to be a sustained training program. The norm is to have what are known as “sensitization programs” conducted by NGOs where often only some officers drop in and stay on for some sessions and then go off. There needs to be a serious process going on: of training every batch and rank of police officers. The will comes from the top level but it is the lower rung who will take in or ignore complaints, take up further investigations and press charges. The CWC at present seems to be limited only to meeting sessions and taking recommendations: from the lack of information of the number of cases etc, it can only be surmised that present CWC members are unable to devote much time and effort to the issue of ensuring child rights. This may be primarily because CWC members are also NGO heads, which means then that they have their own NGO projects to run. Perhaps, less senior management level staff could give more attention and time to the issue?

The need of the hour certainly is for the Social Welfare department, Law Department, Manipur Police and the CWC to work in tandem with each other. Without this inter departmental effort, the lives of children will only amount to news headlines of numbers and names and no value or progress in the lives of children. There needs to be a serious consideration and tangible steps towards effective prevention of trafficking attempts, providing quality education at affordable costs (which is another story altogether, given the state of Government education and the costs involved in the private education sphere; and qualitative intervention in the form of adequate and qualitative counseling, institutional care, police conviction and judicial justice mechanisms.
*The media visit was facilitated by the Coalition on Children’s Right to Protection (CCRP)

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