Mumbai sex trafficking victims seeking justice are left in the lurch

Mumbai: The conditions of most of the remand homes of juveniles, women and children is deplorable and the State government is apathetic towards them which gives rise to corruption within the homes and delay of justice for the victims. This is exactly what The Free Press Journal found out after carrying out a reality check at the juvenile homes in Mumbai.

Most of the victims rescued during sex trafficking raids by the police end up staying longer at the government and private shelters and are not moved out from the shelter homes for years together only because the police does not get a 21-day court order passed for them. After rescue, the minors are to be produced before the Child Welfare Committee and their statements should be recorded under Section 164 of The Code of Criminal Procedure Code. There are four different kinds of orders ie to keep the victims at Non-Government Organisations (NGOs),  hand over the juveniles to their parents, order for juveniles to be kept at the shelter home at their respective native place where parents are staying and to set the victim free. According to Pratibha Ovhal, District Probation officer, “The process is not followed as per the law. For instance, if there are ten majors rescued along with two minors, the police does not pass an order of 21 days under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act. Instead, the police files one charge sheet for the minor girls and women adults above 18 years. So most of the women who are rescued under the ITPA Act are not released from the shelter homes for years together since they are trapped under the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act. (POCSO Act). “If we find that the Superintendents are involved in corruption or sexual exploitation of juveniles and women, we get a First Information Report (FIR) registered against them and get them suspended. Earlier, we had got a FIR registered against an official of the Bhandup home since he was involved in corruption,” added Ovhal.  A recommendation report is given by the district probation officer to the Magistrate whether to set free the victim or not. The victims are counselled by the district probation officer regarding their rights to be set free based on the 21 days order which is to be passed.

52 Bangladeshis, foreign nationals from Kyrgyzstan, Kazaksthan and Syria  were rescued and repatriated by Ovhal. “A lady who was separated from her husband and had a six-month-old baby was rescued by the police and was kept at a shelter home for around two years, only because of the POCSO cases.” According to Vijay Doiphode  Chairman of the Child Welfare Committee at the Dongri juvenile home said, “Nearly 27000 crore budget is allotted for juveniles across India. Approximately, 0.4 per cent is the crime rate of juveniles across India. Most of the children in the age group of 16 to 18 years are involved in love affairs and the minor boys are booked for rapes. Due to multiple stakeholders involved , the repatriation of juveniles is difficult.  “The priorities of the government are different. They are giving only Rs 500 per month under the Bal Sangopan Yojana. The food served at the homes is not good and the juveniles fight among themselves. We have not been paid salaries for the last three months. Also, we are functioning without any counsellors. There is not a single drugs de-addiction centre in Mumbai for the juveniles. The government has not allocated any proposal so for any drug de-addiction centres in Mumbai. Juveniles who have drug addiction issues and mental health issues have to be sent to hospitals for drug addiction problems,” added Doiphode.

In April, 2016, Deepak Sangle,  the then store manager and  Ravi Yadav,  the then  probationary officer  at the Dongri correctional home were caught red-handed for allegedly taking bribes and  leaving  the parents no choice but to bribe the officials to seek  custody of their children. The officials were merely suspended and no First Information Report (FIR) has been registered at the Dongri police station. (Dongri home falls under the  jurisdiction of  Dongri police station). Despite the orders of the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) for handing over the custody of the juveniles to their parents and possession of relevant documents for completing the custody formalities, two fathers of juveniles  were forced to run from pillar to post  to seek custody of their children and coerced to pay bribes of Rs 30,000 each else their sons would not be released.

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Free Press Journal