No kidding, freedom at last for 83 children!

Mumbai :  A major child trafficking racket was busted when 83 children who were being brought from Bihar to Mumbai for child labour were rescued by the NGO Pratham in a joint operation with Government Railway Police (GRP) and other state-level authorities from Maharashtra and Bihar on Monday morning at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT).

The rescue programme started in Bihar on Saturday in a small town called Raxual in the East Champaran district, located on the India-Nepal border. “There is a strong nexus of child traffickers between Maharashtra and Bihar where they take children from Nepal and small hamlets of Bihar to Mumbai. Most of the traffickers themselves belong to the East Champaran district so they are known faces and trusted by the children’s parents,” said Kishore Bhamre, the director of this rescue programme.

Bhamre and his team from Pratham stationed in East Champaran, while tracking the Jan Sadharan Express – the only train that runs once a week from Raxual to Mumbai and back – rescued 10 children from Motihari, East Champaran’s headquarters when the train halted for a couple of minutes at the station. “We had seen at least 70 more children in the train but couldn’t apprehend them. Rest of our team back in Mumbai was alerted and so was the GRP about the trafficking and the children were rescued at LTT,” Bhamre said.

The GRP and Pratham rescued the children when the train arrived at LTT at around 11 am. The children were later given into the custody of GRP. “This case appears to have several aspects and it looks to be very sensitive too. We will carry out a thorough investigation and bring the guilty to book,” said Commissioner of Mumbai GRP, Ravinder Singal.

The 83 kids belong to the age group of nine to 15 years. According to Bhamre, there was one trafficker responsible for every four to five kids. He also added that often, kids even meet distant relatives of theirs at workshops in Mumbai, the latter themselves being victims of child trafficking and child labour who have been working in Mumbai for several years. “Children trafficked from Bihar are taken to Zarri and leather-making workshops in areas such as Byculla, Madanpura, Nagpada in southern Mumbai and Baiganwadi and Shivaji Nagar in Govandi. They are paid not more than Rs 25 per day for a 13-hour shift,” Bhamre said.

Back in Bihar, couples prefer selling their kids off to traffickers instead of taking responsibility for several children. They get anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 for each kid that they sell. Children who do not concentrate on school make easy targets, as parents don’t want to invest time and money in them. “The idea of working in Mumbai still fascinates these people from extremely remote areas. They consider their work in these workshops as a ‘skill’ that the children will acquire,” Bhamre added.

In Bihar, there is also a growing clamour among agencies and activists to punish not only traffickers but also people who sell their children. Continuing its efforts to curb child trafficking, Pratham is going to have a meeting with all state-level stakeholders in Bihar on December 18 and try to come up with plans to educate people on the perils of this dangerous trade.

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