After dragging its feet and total silence over the recent case of children who have been rescued from a ‘Children Home’ in Jaipur in what is a clear case of child trafficking, the news of the Social Welfare Department stepping in to repatriate the trafficked children is welcome news indeed. It needs no mention here that this step has come about after civil society groups cried hoarse over the non action of the Department and the Government of Manipur, despite the grand announcement of an anti trafficking cell some years ago. The lack of seriousness when the news of the children being rescued by another civil society group trickled in is manifest in the delay in the process for getting back the children in question and the total silence over what measures were being taken up with regard to the incident coming to light. Child trafficking is a serious crime and a profitable business and one that is prevalent in societies caught in the grips of what is becoming fashionable to describe as ‘fragile states.’ Manipur is definitely a fragile state given the nature of poverty, lack of development, lack of commitment to address child trafficking on one hand and the lack of awareness about handing children to agencies even in cases where the parents or guardians are said to have given their consent. Technically, ‘consent’ is a much abused word in itself for even in cases where parents and guardians give their permission for their children to be taken away to other states, it is a case of cheating and withholding information when they are not given the true picture of how the children in question would be treated or in what conditions they will be kept in. Often, people involved in trafficking will show papers signed by parents to get away from being charged with trafficking cases slapped against them but the authorities who are taking up such cases need to be clued into the fact that consent is not consent really till facts are handed out.
Now that the children have been brought back, the Government seems to be caught in a damage control mode with the Chief Minister himself going to meet the children and interact with the children. Thankfully, the photos handed out have also been sensitive enough to ensure that the identity of the children are protected with none of the photographs showing their faces. But if only, the Government had not fast forwarded its overtures merely to make up for its delayed response, it would have made more sense. Young children who have reportedly been surviving in an alien environment and under inhumane conditions would have profited more from in-depth counseling sessions, rather than having to go through the exercise of meeting the Chief Minister, the Social Welfare Minister along with a host of officials who would be total strangers and who would be cutting imposing pictures of authority. For all that we know, the children may be undergoing trauma and trying to resolve in their young minds issues of insecurity, fear and unease. They have been cheated, abused and given their earlier experience, have no reason to trust total strangers who step in to with gun toting security personnel. This is not to take away from the value of the steps that the Honorable Chief Minister has announced today, going so far to say that the state government has paid special attention to the issue of child trafficking. Since the action of getting back the children is proof that the State is indeed taking up some step, civil society groups working in the grass roots will only be happy and eager to know exactly what it is that the government has been taking up to ensure on preventing child trafficking from the state, what steps are taken in case children do end up getting trafficked and what are the process of repatriation and rehabilitation. Yes, there is the announcement of free education but that’s a given in any case under RTE. There would need to be more clarity on whether the children will be handed back to their respective families and whether the all important counsellings for emotional and mental well being will be carried out. Child trafficking is a very lucrative business and there is every reason for such cases to come into light or more seriously, to have more serious cases not coming into light. To contain the practice, there would have to be a strong partnership between the state trafficking units, the social welfare department and grass roots NGOs for it is them who have the most people connect and who can act as news harbinger of such cases taking place. There would have to be intensive awareness campaigns on what steps should be followed to verify offers of children education or job recruitment in other parts of the state. The district child welfare committee too would need to pull up its socks and act proactively in terms of awareness and confidence building action.