Bengal’s missing children
West Bengal accounts for the highest number of child trafficking cases in the country with the numbers ever increasing.
Child trafficking is among the most heinous of crimes. A report of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) titled ‘Anti Human Trafficking, 2013’ revealed that out of over 19,000 women and children reported missing in West Bengal in 2011, only 6,000 could be traced. There were as many as 35,000 officially reported cases of child trafficking in India in 2016-17. West Bengal was highest among all the states with 13,000 cases which consist of more than one-third of the all India total. The numbers are staggering and point towards an organized crime racket that is putting many innocent lives at stake. In the government files and reports by various organizations, the missing women and children are ever increasing. But for their families, the hope never dies.
Child trafficking is defined as a group of crimes that involves trafficking in person of children for sexual exploitation or for financial gains or other exploitation of trafficked persons. Victims are lured or abducted from their homes and subsequently forced to work against their wish through various means in various establishments, indulge in prostitution or subjected to various types of indignities and even killed or incapacitated for the purposes of begging, and trade in human organs. Missing children may end up in a variety of places and situations – working as cheap forced labour in illegal factories/establishments/homes, exploited as sex slaves or forced into the child porn industry, as camel jockeys in the Gulf countries, as child beggars in begging rackets, as victims of illegal adoptions or forced marriages, or perhaps worse than any of these as victims of grotesque cannibalism.
West Bengal, with districts like Darjeeling, North and South Dinajpur, Cooch Behar and Malda falling on the huge porous international border (2,217kms with Bangladesh, 92kms with Nepal and 175kms with Bhutan) is identified as a trafficking prone state. The topography of the place makes it easier for traffickers to travel unnoticed. 24 Parganas on the south are other vulnerable areas prone to trafficking. Despite legal provisions there has been increasing reports of women and children being trafficked into prostitution in the name of domestic workers or stage performers in Middle East countries. Illegal recruitment agencies are very active in the North Bengal.
“The efforts to prevent child trafficking have failed miserably because
of commercial exploitation of lower classes”
The number of missing girls in Bengal is on the rise although government figures would try and say things are improving. In a recent report submitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Parliament, the rise in child trafficking cases in the state is highlighted as a major concern. Starting from 2014 to 2016 there has been a steep rise in the actual figure of the number of registered trafficking cases. The rescue operations over the last few years have strengthened without a doubt. With state and central agencies keeping a close eye on this social menace, between 2012 and 2017, West Bengal rescued 46,152 children from this vicious circle.
But the soft targets of these trafficking gangs have always been families from the underdeveloped areas in the country – the efforts to prevent child trafficking have failed miserably because of commercial exploitation of lower classes. The government demonstrated mixed efforts to protect victims; it made positive steps to rescue potential child trafficking victims and improve assistance by providing rehabilitation to victims.