Regulating placement agencies can prevent child trafficking

bbaThe recent rescue of a teenaged domestic help in south Delh’s Vasant Kunj area after she was treated brutally by her employer is yet another addition to the growing list of shocking cases of ill-treatment meted out to domestics. Most of these helps are from the rural hinterland of the country and, as it turns out, have been trafficked from their homes through a well-organised network that works under the guise of placement agencies in the cities.

Non-regulation of placement agencies, which are often found to be trafficking children, especially minor girls, for domestic work in cities under a facade has been a major cause of concern. In the capital, the issue has often come under the scanner with such cases being reported in the media every now and then. However, despite legal procedures being in place, implementation has been slow.

In the Vasant Kunj case too, after the incident came to light, both the employer and the owner of the placement agency through which the 15-year-old was placed were arrested. Police said that the girl was trafficked from Jharkhand.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an organisation that works for child rights and had first taken the matter of regulating placement agencies to the Delhi High Court in January 2009, says that while there were clear directives to government agencies on regulations, the progress has been dismal.

“It is estimated that there are over 2,000 placement agencies functioning in Delhi, but only 269 have been registered under the Delhi Shops and Establishment Act, 1954. This despite the Delhi High Court’s landmark judgement in 2010, asking the labour department to regulate these agencies that includes their registration, as well as registration of the domestic helps they get hired,” BBA’s Kailash Satyarthi told IANS.

The court had also asked the police to close down all the illegal placement agencies. It asked the Delhi Commission on Women and Child Welfare department to deal with complaints made by domestic helps within a month of their being lodged, as well as ensure recovery of pending wages.

“In a written statement in parliament earlier this year, the government said that between 2008 and 2012, that is in five years, 452,679 cases of trafficked children were reported as being rescued. In Delhi, the number of rescued children is 2,019. But in less than six percent of the cases (25,006) were the culprits prosecuted, and of that only 0.6 percent (3,394) resulted in convictions,” Satyarthi said.

Even as activists await a law following the Delhi government’s draft Delhi Private Placement Agency Regulation Bill which was presented to the high court in 2012, stories of human anguish continue to surface.

The story of two sisters, Rumi and Sumi, aged 12 and 14, is depressingly familiar. The duo was lured by a trafficker, a woman named Haseena Begum, from their home in Assam’s Lakhimpur district when their parents were not around. When their mother, Kuloda Gawla, returned from work, she raised an alarm at not finding her daughters. That was when the villagers said that the girls were seen accompanying the woman.

Five years hence, Kuloda has still not seen her daughters. Endless rounds of the local police station and a frantic search led her to realise that her daughters had been trafficked to Delhi, and that Haseena and her husband Manoj run a placement agency in Panipat in Haryana.

Maina Beg, who hails from the same place as Kuloda and whose 14-year-old daughter Anu has also been missing under similar circumstances for the past six years, finally approached BBA’s local victim assistance team for help. The team, in turn wrote to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the police, and is now awaiting rescue in both the cases.

Rescue, however, is only case-specific relief and for actual change to take place, activists say that placement agencies must be regulated so that more and more children are prevented from being sucked into the vicious cycle in the future. In cities where there is a constant demand for domestic help, it’s also important for people to be made aware that their domestic may be a helpless victim of trafficking.


‘Uttarakhand’s orphaned children may fall prey to traffickers’

Two months after the Uttarakhand tragedy, the wounds continue to deepen as stories of missing and orphaned children come to the fore with fears expressed that many of them may fall prey to human traffickers.

While the state government estimates 455 children missing after the floods ravaged towns and villages, the state’s child rights commission puts the number much higher. The commission and aid agencies are also worried that orphaned and vulnerable children may be falling prey to traffickers.

“The risk of children falling prey to traffickers is always there after a natural calamity, especially of this magnitude,” Ajay Sethia, chairperson of the Uttarakhand State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, told IANS. “My concern is how to handle the more than 300-400 orphaned children because the government has no infrastructure.”

Flash floods and landslides caused by cloudbursts claimed thousands of lives in Uttarakhand in June. Among those killed and affected were both pilgrims and locals. As a result, families have been torn apart, some being entirely washed away, others leaving only a few survivors and orphaned children.

Quoting the latest state government figures, Sethia said that as of now, 287 children from other states – mostly pilgrims’ children – have been reported to have gone missing after the tragedy. The most among these missing children – 130 – were from Uttar Pradesh. Others were from Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Chandigarh.

“The district administration figures of children of local people going missing is 168, but the commission believes the figure is higher,” Sethiya said. “For instance, in Rudraprayag district, the official estimate of missing children is 146, but the commission’s figure is 181. So our total figure is 203 missing children, but there may be more.”

Kailash Satyarthi of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) said that the focus of the government has not yet reached the children, which is a matter of concern.

“The focus was on rescuing the missing people, the pilgrims first because they were in such big numbers and then the locals. Children have still not got the focus, which is worrying, because from our experience, after every natural disaster a place becomes a trafficking zone. We had seen it during and after the Kosi floods, during the Tsunami, and now we fear the same in Uttarakhand.”

The Uttarakhand SCPCR pushed the central government to start the Integrated Child Protection Scheme in the state under which all existing child protection schemes, with additional interventions, will be brought together to build a protective environment for children.

“The central government will allot the funds and we have given directions for the care of vulnerable children and orphans. We have said that of the 13 observation homes, only three should remain and the rest should be made children’s homes. In Tehri, there is one shelter home which should be converted into a children’s home,” Sethia said.

Although no case of trafficking or kidnapping has been reported till now, recognising the looming threat on vulnerable children, Sethia said, he had instructed the director general of police to activate the four anti-trafficking units in the state.

Civil society, on the other hand, has been doing its bit to offer a protective environment to the affected children. Save the Children India, for instance, has plans of building 100 child-friendly spaces in as many villages in which trained caregivers will help children learn, play, get medical help and interact with one another for psycho-social support.

“Children are at a loose end and unprotected, either because their families have disappeared or they are left alone because their parents have gone looking for alternative livelihood. Schools have been washed away and the kids are extremely traumatised. In such a scenario, these child-friendly spaces, which are tented areas, aim to provide support,” Devendra Tak of the NGO told IANS.

Of the 100 planned, 13 such spaces in three districts – Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Tehri Garhwal – are functional and support 25-30 children each, although their capacity is 50 each. The initiative has the support of both the state government and the Centre.

Satyarthi further said that BBA has written to the Uttarakhand government to instruct the local police to prevent outsiders from entering the 2,000 affected villages without verification.

“It’s very easy to lure away children from parents on the pretext of a job in a city and a good livelihood when they have lost everything. Traffickers will be on the lookout for such vulnerable families to source child labourers,” he warned.

(Source: IANS)

Cancel licences of units employing child labourers: Court

The Delhi High Court Wednesday issued orders to cancel the licences of factories employing child labourers, an NGO here said in a statement.

 “Honorable Chief Justice Deepak Mishra and Justice Sanjeev Khanna passed an order to cancel factory license of the units where such child labourers were found working,” said Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), a child rights organisation which has been actively working with the police and the labour department in various rescue operations of child labourers.

The court also showed its dissatisfaction over recovery of Rs.20,000 as compensation from the employers for each child labourer, BBA said.

“The court also asked for status report of recoveries made on the next date of hearing. This amount is to be spent on welfare of the rescued child as per the direction passed by the Supreme Court,” it added.