Only a fraction of child trafficking cases getting registered in Guwahati
The number of cases registered in the city against trafficking of children reflects only a small percentage of the total cases.
“It is difficult to get a fair idea about the nature and extent of trafficking by looking at the number of registered cases since it is carried out mostly in a concealed manner, especially in the remote areas and villages,” said secretary of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR), Anuja Bhuyan.
Activists say that most parents of trafficked children feel scared to approach the police for registration of complaints. Project director, human trafficking, of the NGO Assam Centre for Rural Development (ACRD), Nayantara Hazarika, said, “Some locals from the villages are hand-in-gloves with the traffickers who lure the parents with high salaries for their children. After the children are taken away, the parents are even sent Rs 5,000 to 10,000 every month for the first two or three months after which they stop sending the money.”
Hazarika added that it is only after the parents stop receiving the money that they become panic-stricken. “Even after such developments they refrain from going to the police station. They prefer approaching the village leaders.”
There have also been instances when cases reported under child labour and children who have fled their homes turn out to be trafficking cases, an official said.
As per the data of Guwahati Childline-- a programme under the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) meant for the safeguard of children in need of care and protection—a total of 73 cases were reported under “missing children”. Another agency for child protection under the state government has been receiving around 15 cases of missing children on an average every month and many of these later turn out to be trafficking cases.
However, the claims made by some NGOs on missing children point at higher numbers in rural areas across the state.
Guwahati becoming a den for child trafficking
Officials say that Guwahati is fast becoming a “source centre” for trafficking children to other states of the Northeast as well as places like Haryana, Delhi, Punjab and Kolkata.
Abani Haloi, coordinator of the Guwahati unit of Railway Childline, which works to provide emergency rescue and protection services to children at railway stations, said that areas with railway connectivity are highly prone to trafficking.
“We rescue around five to six cases of suspected trafficking in a month,” he said adding that the Ministry of Women and Child Development is planning to extend the operations of Railway Childline to 1,000 more stations across the country.
Haloi stressed on the need for the prosecution of traffickers. “It is essential that whoever is nabbed in such cases should be convicted,” he said adding that traffickers are not usually deterred by the fear of punishment.
Guwahati’s importance as a railway hub has increased over the past few years with the government expanding the network and aiming to connect more places in the Northeast.
Officials are of the opinion that mostly children of families from economically weaker backgrounds who are illiterate fall prey to human traffickers. Parents who are daily wagers in tea gardens or those who are employed in menial jobs are targeted by agents with promises of regular income for their children.
However, in most cases they are either sold off as domestic helps or made to work in brothels where they are exploited and tortured.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, in 2015, Assam topped the list of states with the highest number of child trafficking cases with a total of 1317 registered cases. The state contributed the highest percent contribution at 37.7 percent to the all India total.
Guwahati lacks Child Protection Committees
Guwahati is yet to have the Village Level Child Protection Committees (VLCPC) which are mandatory under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS)—a scheme implemented under the MWCD in 2009 for protection of children.
The District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) of Kamrup (Metro), Binjumani Deka, however assured the city would soon have its committees for improved surveillance on human trafficking.
The increasing number of human trafficking cases and missing children prompted the government to form the VLCPC with the hope that they would help in faster and effective identification of cases related to trafficking.
NGOs often face hurdles while rescuing children from traffickers. In several instances, it has been found that children are trained to offer a version that shifts the onus of the crime from the agents.
• Many child trafficking cases in Guwahati remain underreported
• Parents of missing children feel scared to approach the police
• Parents get lured by lucrative job offers and agree to send their children away
• Children from Guwahati are mostly trafficked to other states of the Northeast and Haryana, Delhi, Punjab and Kolkata
• Guwahati still does not have Village Level Child Protection Committees