According to an estimate, two million children are victims of child slavery every year in the world. One-third of them are from South Asian countries. There are many forms of the child trafficking such as sexual abuse for money, exploitation for wages and for trafficking of limbs, camel jockeying etc. As per a report of the United Nations, more than 80 percent of the world’s human trafficking, especially of girls, is done for sexual exploitation, while the rest is carried out mainly with the intent of bonded labour. India does not hold good record on the front of human trafficking in Asia, with exploitation of small girls for domestic work, forced marriage and prostitution being rampant in the country.

Children are the foundation of a society and insensitivity towards them is detrimental to the future of that country. The severity of the situation in India can be estimated by the fact that in the various locations of the country every year about one lakh children are reported to be missing as per the missing persons’ reports. On an average, 180 children are reported to be missing every day, 55% per cent of them are girls. Unfortunately, the number of untraced children keeps accumulating year on year, generally 45% of all missing children remain untraceable. Many of them are transported to dens of sexual exploitation, or gangs dealing in begging or smuggling of human organs. The ‘Action Research on Trafficking in Women and Children report released by the National Human Rights Commission says that the children whose whereabouts are not known are actually not missing, but they are actually trafficked. A large number of these are thrown into the brutal business of sexual tourism.

Reasons for Child Trafficking

Socio-economic reasons play a key role in the illegal trade of child trafficking within India. Due to factors like poverty, illiteracy, lack of employment and the absence of security arrangements for the future, etc., children are often driven to venture out of the protective four walls of their homes themselves. Many times, their parents too send them out, and they are eventually trapped in the stranglehold of traffickers.

Human trafficking has also been attributed to factors such as social inequality, regional gender preference, imbalance and corruption, especially where many cases of procurement of women and children of tribal areas of India have also been reported.

Child trafficking has emerged such a profitable business that the mafia groups engaged in this crime have also developed an underworld business structure for this. Taking advantage wherever there is a lack of security, laxity in the law system, these gangs make the children disappear after finding suitable opportunities.

Describing human trafficking as a major challenge, the Union Home Minister recently said that other issues including sexual tourism and child pornography have emerged as a major challenge for the children. Addressing the fourth Ministerial meeting (2016) of South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), he said that protecting children is the responsibility of all. Therefore, all possible parties – such as parents, teachers, children and communities – should work together to eliminate child trafficking.

Growing Incidence of Child Trafficking

The organized, illegal human trafficking in the country is spreading so fast that India is beginning to be recognized as one of major centres of human trafficking in Asia. In the last five years, cases of human trafficking have increased by more than fourfold.

The organized, illegal trade in human trafficking is spreading so fast in India that the country is beginning to be recognized as one of major centres of human trafficking in Asia. In the last few years, cases of human trafficking have registered a manifold increase. The number of cases of human trafficking which have come to light shows successive increase over the years. As per the NCRB, as many as 8,132 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2016 against 6,877 in 2015. As per the 2016 figures, West Bengal reported 3,579 cases of human trafficking cases, which is about 44% of the total such cases.

The number of victims stood at 5466 in the year 2014; 3940 in 2013, while 3554 cases of human trafficking were filed in 2012 registering an increase of 17% from 3,029 cases reported in 2008.  The NCRB data further shows that 3517 women and children became victims of trafficking in 2011.

Laws against Child Trafficking

There are stringent law to prevent the illegal trade of child trafficking. For this, the United Nations has put in place the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (The Palermo Protocol).

Under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act in India, commercial sexual exploitation is punishable and its punishment ranges from seven years to life imprisonment. In India, the Bonded Labour Elimination Act, the Child Labour Act and the Juvenile Justice Act, prohibit bonded and forced labour.

But these laws are inadequate to curb human trafficking, so the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) has prepared a new law to curb the increasing incidents of human trafficking.

Apathy towards Missing Children

It is worth noting that the Supreme Court has adopted a harsh attitude in relation to child trafficking. It has repeatedly reprimanded the Central Government and the State Governments. In the year 2014, the Supreme Court had rebutted the Chhattisgarh and Bihar government and asked why they did not follow the guidelines given in 2013 regarding the missing children. It is worth mentioning that cases of missing children in these two states are increasing rapidly. The Supreme Court said that the farce of mechanically filing responses and doing nothing on the ground should be stopped.  The court, while expressing its displeasure, had also made it clear that the Centre and the state governments should ensure that if the children are missing then they should hold DGP and chief secretary of the state accountable and seeks answers from them.

The Supreme Court had directed that with the registration of FIR in connection with the missing children, a special Juvenile Police unit should be set up in the state. The court also directed that at least one officer posted at the police station should be given the power to ensure that it acts as a special juvenile unit. The National Human Rights Commission was urged to see what action is being taken in this regard.

However, the police administration appears to be bypassing the sensitivity of the court, which is evident by the fact that even after repeated warnings, the figures of missing children are increasing. According to the figures presented in Parliament in July 2014, 3.25 lakh children were missing between 2011 and June 2014 in the country. According to the report of a non-government organization, about eleven children disappear every hour in the country. According to ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’, between January 2008 and January 2010, 1,14,480 children were missing in 392 districts across the country. The NGO has said in its book ‘Missing Children of India’ that it has obtained these figures from government agencies by filing RTIs in 392 districts. These are the figures that are registered. Then there are thousands of such children whose parents abandon themselves due to their adverse circumstances. In such a situation, their disappearance report is not possible.

In spite of this horrific situation, a circular was sent by a high-ranking official of the Delhi Police in the context of the children that the deadline for making final reports in missing or abducted cases could be made one year instead of three years. It is clear that in the past, after a child disappeared or abducted, his case was recorded in police records for at least three years. The Delhi Child Rights Protection Commission filed an objection to this circular and pointed out that the police cannot issue such arbitrary order in order to reduce the number of unresolved cases as there is a strong possibility of children coming under the clutches of gangs involved in sexual exploitation. In such cases, if the police closed the file then the investigation would be incomplete. Mercifully, after the commission’s objection, the Delhi Police cancelled its circular.

In the context of police negligence towards missing children, the Supreme Court had made it clear in February 2013 that every case of missing children will be registered as a cognizable crime followed by proper investigation. In all such pending cases in which the child is still missing, but FIRs have not been filed and the police will have to file a report within one month. In every case of missing children, it will be assumed that the child has been hijacked or has become a victim of illegal trade.

It is well-known that the administration is insensitive and inactive about matters related to children. The Delhi High Court had directed the Delhi Police to ascertain whether such incidents are happening due to any organized crime. Because of the absence of children on such a large scale, it is self-evident that people involved in smuggling of children may be behind it. It has been observed that on the most worrisome subject of missing children, the police tend to claim that the disappeared children of the weaker sections have either fled or have gone astray and they will return after some time. But this is not true because studies of various research, human rights commission and non-governmental organizations show that the most of missing innocent children become victims of smuggling.

Solutions/Ways to End Child Trafficking

Taking human trafficking cases seriously, the present government has made free thousands of children and women in its campaign to find out missing children and women from across the country.

The government has introduced the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2017 with strict provisions to punish those involved in “aggravated forms of trafficking”. The new Bill stipulates a provision for doubling the punishment of criminals of human trafficking and provision for special courts for the speedy trial of such cases. It has stringent penalties like life imprisonment, and stripping traffickers of their assets. Significantly, the burden of proof lies on the traffickers.

Bilateral agreements have also been made with Bangladesh and UAE in the direction of curbing human trafficking along with the trade of narcotics and weapons from the borders of neighbouring countries.

Not only that, India has also ratified the SAARC and the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Human Trafficking, considered the third largest organized crime in the world, in which one of the many protocols prohibits the smuggling of human beings, especially women and children, along with a provision for punishment.

To prevent the incidents involving the disappearance of children, there is a need for a national network which should not only record the details of the disappearance seriously, but also take remedial steps for their comeback. Significantly, after the Nithari scandal, the National Human Rights Commission had formed a committee headed by PC Sharma. If the recommendations of the committee were taken seriously, the situation of the children in the country would not have been so pathetic. The Committee had made relevant suggestion that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) should set up a national identity system to prevent the disappearance of children.

Concerned over the growing graph of human trafficking in the country, the Home Ministry argues that the Central Government issues comprehensive advisories from time to time to improve the efficiency of states in dealing with the crime of human trafficking. And to take action as per law against such crimes, funds are also released from the Centre to establish anti-human trafficking units in different districts of the states. According to the Ministry, due to the police and public order being a state subject, state governments are responsible for reducing and dealing with the crimes of illegal human trade or trafficking. However, a nodal cell has been set up in the Ministry of Home Affairs against illegal human trade.

Conclusion

In India, trafficking of limbs, child prostitution and begging by children fall under the category of crime, but in the absence of co-ordination and cooperation between laws, surveillance system and various related departments, the statistics of child trafficking keep on increasing rapidly. The number of children missing in the country will not be reduced until the law enforcement and judicial agencies prioritize matters related to this issue. One of the main drawbacks of law enforcement is that data and information about human trafficking and exploitation are not meticulously kept.

The growing incidence of missing children is not only a failure of the police and administration, but also the cause of endless pain for parents who have to separate from their children for life. Therefore, it has become necessary to look at some new dimensions which can be helpful in finding missing children. Use of media in this direction can play a decisive role. It is important that the protection of children and their rights should be given utmost priority.