New Internationalist

India’s child trafficking and child beggars conundrum

24-02-2017-beggars-590.jpg [Related Image]
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 https:>information, we still allow people to get away with trafficking and abusing children. And we dare to call ourselves civilised. We really do. /https:>

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  1. #1 Marie 09 Mar 17

    Thanks for awaking us on this difficult and complicated subject. Hope new technology will bring solutions...

  2. #2 Pesch Ludwig 09 Mar 17

    Heart breaking to even imagine the lot awaiting many abandoned children, and too many there are! It's a shock for me as I thought that much had been changed for the better with India's fabulous economic growth in recent decades. But has it?

    While trillions of dollars are rolling forth and back across the globe day in, day out, much of it in search of even more ’profitable’ investment, societies and global leaders should be investing in their fellow human beings.

    But how to change the root causes of these children's plight? It clearly arises from economic conditions that makes life for their families miserable beyond imagination for the middle class. A growing class keen on hiding itself from reality behind high walls, guarded by video cameras and security staff. Just as their private schools. Grooming their own children in a new kind of apartheid while still depending on the very services rendered by the people they despise with a sense of unfounded entitlement. (Sadly I have witnessed an elite boarding school session where the headmaster openly endorsed such feelings during the morning assembly some two years ago! So I shouldn't be surprised, really. A lesson to remember before getting coopted into its fold, as anywhere in the world.)

    Last week I spoke to a woman friend who grew up in a remote rural community of Germany in the early 60s. Although it's hard to believe, there (as in neighbouring regions of Switzerland and Austria going by recent NZZ-press reports on compensations ordered by a Swiss court), the trafficking in poor children as farm hands, without proper nutrition or education, was common practice way into the second half of the 20th century. (In fact, this often amounted to bondage, sometimes worse and comparable to what is described in this blog on destitute Indian children now.)

    In Europe, proper education of all sections of society there was and remains the key in eradicating large scale exploitation of children. It also needs to be accompanied by law enforcement and transparent procedures to avoid abuse of the law (such as exposing teachers and other staff to blackmail for no fault of theirs).

    To begin with, this calls for proper legislation and allocation of funds to put it into practice.

    But are there any NGOs left to reckon in the present political climate? Hard to say from a distance, so let's stay optimistic and support those brave ones who take up this cause with confidence and sound judgement!

  3. #3 Sigi 31 Mar 17

    I am trying to find a charity that deals with homeless children in India or Nepal, and I can either donate to or volunteer with for short periods.
    It is difficult from the UK to know what the best way of getting involved is, and which are the best charities/organisations to get involved with.
    Do you have any advice?
    Kind regards
    Mr S. Solly

  4. #4 richard compart 10 Apr 17

    you have to acknowledge we are in 2100 century your culture has to change. Unbelievable

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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