India's child trafficking and child beggars conundrum


Child beggars begging infront of a church on a sunday morning. This begging children belong to a tribal sect of Andhra Pradesh which has begging as the only occupation. BrownyCat under a Creative Commons Licence

An anti child trafficking campaign in India asks the public to photograph and share pictures child beggars, but it’s not as easy as it seems, argues Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

A heartbreaking issue, one I shrink from in abject cowardice, because of the sheer, daunting, terrifying enormity of the task, is child trafficking.

The thought of children being kidnapped, brutalised, tortured and maimed, to beg, and/or be sexually abused, makes any average person shut down. I admire people who have the strength and tenacity to deal with these children. The rescue missions, the counselling, the rehabilitation process – all of these require tremendous courage, patience and compassion.

Today I received a WhatsApp video called ‘No More Missing’. It exhorted people not to give money to child beggars as this encourages trafficking. I have thought a lot about this. I tend to hand out food to street children: bananas, boiled eggs, oranges and packets of biscuits, mostly. I buy them breakfast often. A hot masala dosa or idly-sambar is not easily come by, so its generally a welcome treat.

But I have friends who work with street children. So I've heard these kids stories often. From their point of view. Not from the point of view of the passer-by on four wheels.

When I watched the video, I was taken with the idea. Don't give these kids money it said. You'll be helping traffickers. Take a snapshot and post it on the website, 'No More Missings'. I thought posting pictures of little kids on the street seemed a wonderful idea. Then my daughter-in-law pointed out, it could endanger the kids further. Vulnerable children up for grabs by predators and perverts because there's a data base giving paedophiles information about them and their pictures. I did a double take.

Children rescued from Mysore streets, living in a hostel where they are now affectionately nurtured and cared for, tell us they often went hungry on the streets. So a meal is a wonderful thing. And most of them ran away from home because of an abusive drunken father, a proverbially cruel stepmother or stepfather, after being orphaned, or ill treated at their place of work. It's still common for Indian children as young as seven or eight to be apprenticed and to work in Dickensian conditions. They work long days, often twelve to fourteen hours, are beaten for the smallest mistake and fed badly. That's sadly, still a reality.

We need thousands more rescue centres for such children, in every district of India. But every such centre needs monitoring closely by volunteer women’s groups, because often rescued kids are abused in state-run institutions. Solutions are not easy. Raids have uncovered children’s homes being run by paedophiles. Unless local communities are involved in the children’s welfare, their safety is not guaranteed. I have personally heard stories of abuse of children in religious-run institutions ranging from Christian boarding schools to Hindu Ashrams to Muslim madrasas to Buddhist monasteries. Not a pretty picture.

As for the video which inspired this blog, it's for experts to debate the advisability, its pros and cons.

There are issues surrounding our right to randomly photograph a child. And the more frightening one of paedophiles and perverts pouncing on this information. It needs serious discussion, not knee jerk solutions.

Far more urgently, we need to create awareness, so that neighbours, communities and concerned citizens look out for abused and trafficked children and for help line and child protection centres to be advertised and information regarding rescue teams to be more widely circulated – so it becomes as common as any other emergency number.

It's a sad comment on the state of our society, that in this age of advanced technology and information, we still allow people to get away with trafficking and abusing children. And we dare to call ourselves civilised. We really do.