Trafficking is a common story of hundreds of children every year in Gaya and adjoining districts of Bihar including Nawdah, Aurangabad and Jahanabad. Many such children are from the neighbouring Chatra district of Jharkhand state. While ‘Child rescue’ is a well-publicized event in Gaya but ‘child trafficking’ is hardly a registered crime here. A TCN Ground Report.
Sami Ahmad, TwoCircles.net
Gaya: Fourteen-year-old Dhiraj Kumar, resident of Dula Bigha in Gaya in the eastern Indian state of Bihar was trafficked in March 2019 to work at a bangle factory nearly 1200 kilometres away in Bhatta Basti in Jaipur, Rajasthan. He had dropped out of school in class 4. A trafficker promised his father Mahendra Das of a regular income and Rs. 3,000 as an advance payment.
In Jaipur, Dhiraj was forced to work, denied proper food and often beaten.
Gautam Buddha – the founder of Buddhism, got enlightenment in Bodhgaya, some 12 kilometres further to Gaya. Gaya city itself is said to be the place of emancipation (moksha-sthal) but the children from mostly Dalit and minority communities still face slavery-like conditions, and are trafficked for cheap labour.
Dhiraj was lucky to be rescued by the local police in just three months along with other children from the bangle factory. They were sent back home after necessary formalities.
Dhiraj’s father Mahendra Das, a school drop-out and agriculture labourer said that he was very happy to get his son back because he wanted him to get ‘some education.’
He said, “Soche ki aa gaya hai tou donon bhai ki tarah kuchh parh lega aur kam bhi karega (I expected that Dhiraj would get some education and work too, as his two brothers are doing.)”
Dhiraj has two brothers and one sister. His brothers have passed 10th standard and work in a steel railing factory while his sister studies at a local school. Dhiraj’s mother, Mintu Devi, is a homemaker and helps her husband in the field.
Das’s hope has dashed as Dhiraj’s rescue has not ended the family’s ordeal.
Within a few months of Dhiraj’s rescue on June 30, 2019, the man who lured Das to send Dhiraj for work started to threaten the family to either return the ‘advance payment’ or the boy to the factory. The trafficker threatened to beat Das. When Das went to file a complaint against the trafficker, he was sent away, Das alleged.
Das said that he tried to get an FIR registered against the trafficker but the local police didn’t entertain his plea and sent him away.
It took an intervention from Anil Kishore Yadav, Additional Police Director General, Weaker Section to direct the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Gaya to ensure the registration of an FIR.
Rescue without trafficking?
‘Child rescue’ is a well-publicized event in Gaya but ‘child trafficking’ is hardly a registered crime here.
On April 10, news was circulating about the child rescue of eighty children. They were rescued from Jaipur, Rajasthan. These children belong to Gaya, Nawadah, Jahanabad, Nalanda, Patna, Vaishali, Muzaffarpur and Purnia etc of Bihar.
While the focus was laid on the rescue act, there was no talk about child trafficking – which is what had the case was about.
Celebratory rescues were a quarterly affair in Gaya till Covid-19 pandemic shut everything down. However, these rescues talked of ‘Bal Mazdoor’ (Child Labour), and child trafficking was hardly mentioned.
While Jaipur city in the western Indian state of Rajasthan has the highest demand for use of trafficked child labourers but there are other places in India too like Telangana, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai where demand is high. Gaya in Bihar stands high on the supply side of child trafficking. Seemanchal districts comprising Araria, Purnia, Kishanganj and Katihar in eastern Bihar, are also highly sought in the supply side of trafficking, with Gaya acting as a transit centre.
While celebratory rescues are common in Gaya, nobody has asked how children of Gaya and adjoining districts of Bihar were rescued from the far-off Jaipur and other places if they were not trafficked in the first place.
No one still asks that question.
And “that is the problem,” said Suresh Kumar who heads the Centre-DIRECT, an NGO involved in helping survivors of child trafficking in Gaya.
He told TwoCircles.net that in most cases the police register a case of ‘missing child found’ or ‘run away’ case.
Trap of the trafficker
Dhiraj’s is not a one-off story. Satish Kumar of Kharona village in Atri block of Gaya district, Bihar was trafficked to Jaipur along with his brother Nitish and three other children in January 2019. Their father Suresh Sao sells daily usage goods on a bicycle.
The trafficked children were taken to and kept in a factory. They were fed poorly and beaten for minor mistakes.
On June 20, 2019, Satish was rescued with four other children and brought back home. But this rescue started another set of problems for Satish’s father, Sao. The man who had arranged the trafficking of these children started bargaining with Sao for the rescue of his second son, Nitish.
“We were threatened, abused and asked to pay Rs. 200,000 for the rescue,” Sao said.
Finally, Centre-DIRECT came to the rescue of the family and got an FIR registered against the trafficker. Nitish was brought back home in December 2020. The family, however, said that they still face threats.
The trafficker asks for compensation for his losses. “He said if you cannot pay money, send back your sons,” Sao said.
Sao said that “The trafficker has not paid the amount promised. Instead, they want the advance money back. Sometimes, they put pressure on us for compromising.”
Gaya, a source hotspot
Trafficking is a common story of hundreds of children every year in Gaya and adjoining districts of Bihar including Nawdah, Aurangabad and Jahanabad. Many such children are from the neighbouring Chatra district of Jharkhand state.
Several reasons contribute to making Gaya a source hotspot for child trafficking.
Gaya is around 100 kilometres south of Bihar’s capital Patna. Gaya is the best centre for transportation in south Bihar as it is well connected with Rail tracks and the Grand Trunk Road. Jodhpur Express and Sialdah-Ajmer Express are the two main trains used for trafficking children to Rajasthan. The timings of the trains also help the traffickers to dodge the not so alert police.
What do the traffickers say to the parents?
Deepak Kumar, the director of ‘Rescue Junction’, an organization that arranges short stay for the children who are brought to Gaya after they are rescued told TwoCircles.net that the ‘invisible to police’ traffickers roam around in search of poor and needy parents in targeted areas. They will first convince them that a ‘job’ in Jaipur or other places in India is for the betterment of the family. They will offer some advance to the parents and there will be a promise of ‘monthly income’ of around Rs. 3000 to Rs. 5000.
“Poverty and lack of awareness are the main reasons behind child trafficking in Bihar and particularly in Gaya,” Kumar adds.
Abdul Qadir, a Gaya based journalist and professor in Economics, said that the victims of child trafficking mostly comprise Dalits— Manjhi and Das— and the poor from Muslim community where poverty is high and literacy is low. “That makes the job of traffickers easy,” he said.
Suresh Kumar of Centre-DIRECT said that abject poverty is one reason but Police inaction also helps traffickers. “It is true that in their abject poverty the parents are easily lured to offer their children who are trafficked. However, they struggle to register an FIR even if they wish to do so.”
Railway Protection Force (RPF), Gaya, is assigned to check if the children are being trafficked through the rail route. “We get tip-offs but as children are accompanied by their parents these days, it is difficult to stop them,” said Anwar Sami Siddiqui, Inspector at RPF, Gaya.
He said that the mindset of the parents needs to change in such a way that they realize that the government schemes meant for them are a better way to alleviate their condition than sending away their children to work.
Child trafficking issue is invisibized in Gaya
The only place where ‘child trafficking’ seems to be acknowledged in Gaya is on the wall painting at the Child Protection Office and the office of Deputy Superintendent of Police (Headquarter), who is the nodal officer of Anti Human Trafficking Unit. This wall painting uses the word ‘Bal Taskari’ or Child Smuggling, which means Child Trafficking.
Rakesh Kumar Mishra heads the Child Welfare Committee (Gaya).
He told TwoCircles.net that the Child Protection Unit (CPU) is assigned to prepare the Social Investigation Report of the rescued children. However, the CPU office of Gaya has no such report of the children who were rescued after being trafficked. It only has reports for the child labourers who were rescued.
According to the census of 2011, Bihar had 10, 88, 509 child labourers and 78, 929 were from Gaya, which is the largest in the state.
An official at the CPU Gaya told TwoCircles.net that his office has no record of ‘child trafficking’, though it has some data on child labourers and their rehabilitation.
Mishra said that “since FIR is lodged at the place where the children are rescued, it is a tedious process to get the copy of FIR, getting the charges and inform the accused and arrange the appearance in court.”
Rescued children face threats from the traffickers too and this forces their families to not send their children to court. “Parents find it tough,” Mishra said.
Anjani Kumar Singh is the nodal officer of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of Gaya Police. His office has no record of child trafficking cases or child traffickers. He told this correspondent to meet someone in the office of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Gaya.
In the SSP office, there are some records of human trafficking cases.
From 2010 to 2020, there were 68 cases of human trafficking, which were presumably related to children.
The man who provides the data was instructed by the nodal officer of AHTU to not give any paper and only tell the figures orally. He told me that that out of 68 cases only 10 cases were disposed of. But how many were convicted? The man has no idea. No one has.
A paper titled ‘Laws relating to child trafficking in India’ and published by Centre for Child and the Law (CCL), National Law School of India University (NLSIU) suggests that, ‘the main functions of AHTU are prevention, protection and prosecution of trafficking in human beings. Besides, they develop databases on traffickers, and network with all concerned agencies when required’. But no database was found in Gaya.
As most of the cases applied section 370 (5) of IPC (Buying or disposing of any person as a slave), it is understood that these cases were related to child trafficking. Section 370 of IPC defines human trafficking. This section deals with the trafficking of more than one minor while section 370 (4) of IPC deals with the trafficking of a single minor.
While there are instances of re-trafficking of minors but the SSP office record does not show any case of section 370 (6) of IPC. It deals with trafficking a minor on more than one occasion. There is a provision of minimum-rigorous imprisonment of ten years for 370 (4) and 14 years for 370 (5). Maximum imprisonment for both is life sentence and fine. In the case of 370 (6), which is re-trafficking, the punishment is imprisonment for the remainder of the person’s natural life and fine.
But why are there fewer registered FIR’s related to trafficking? I asked this question to the Station House Officer of Government Rail Police (GRP), Gaya, Santosh Kumar. Child trafficking cases are registered at GRP if the children are found in the rail area. He said that child trafficking is a serious issue in Gaya but the police need evidence to act. “Children who are suspected to be trafficked are tutored to say that they are safe and travelling with their relatives,” he said.
Changed strategy of the traffickers
Ratna Sen is the coordinator of an NGO called Child Help Desk, Gaya Railway Junction.
Talking to TwoCircles.net, she said that children are now being taken from remote railway stations following enhanced alertness at Gaya.
The police and the NGO’s staff say that the demand had decreased due to the shutting down of factories during the lockdown where the children are forced to work as cheap labourers. “But as the factories restarted after unlock (the lifting of Covid-19 lockdown measures by the government), the trafficking of children too restarted,” she added.
Rajesh Kumar Mikky, a local journalist who has covered Rail services in the region, said that during the lockdown the rail police and civil administration was more alert that made the trafficking of children riskier for the traffickers. “They (traffickers) chose the road route to traffic the children,” he said.
“When unlock started, the ‘dalal’ or the brokers for child trafficking started to provide AC tickets not only for the children but for their parents too. There were clashes to oust those families from the AC compartment as their clothes indicated that they could not afford that. On some occasions, the ticket showed the place of booking and that proved the trick in trafficking. The children are not being taken in bulk now,” he added.
Ways to curb child trafficking
Deepak Kumar of the ‘Rescue Junction’ said that apart from poverty alleviation and awareness the potential children for trafficking need to be kept involved in education and skill development. “All the agencies working in this field should focus on those villages which are targeted by the traffickers to get the children involved,” he said.
Professor Abdul Qadir said that the best way to stop child trafficking is to take action against those factories where the victims are used as cheap child labour “like some countries earlier stopped the import of the Bhadohi carpet on account of child labour abuse.”
“In the absence of social security, monitoring and follow up even the rescued children are re-trafficked from Gaya. That needs to be checked,” he said.
For Centre-DIRCT’s Suresh, he said “there is a clear lack of coordination among the different organs of the government which are supposed to stop child trafficking.”
“It needs to be fixed,” he comments.
Suresh rues that one of the biggest problems in minimizing child trafficking is that the parents cannot afford to send such children to other states for court appearances. “The legal process also needs to be addressed,” he said.
In rare instances, traffickers do get punished as in the case of Rahul Kumar. He is from Solra Panchayat under Paraiya block of Gaya. Rahul was 14- years-old when he was trafficked to Jaipur by a local trafficker named Mohammad Sonu. Rahul was confined in a room at a factory and was not fed properly. According to Rahul, he was asked ‘Kam karne aaye ho ya khana khane aaye ho’ (Have you been brought to work or just eating?). He fled from the factory on the pretext of buying biscuits.
After fleeing, he was taken to a local police station by an unknown person. Acting on his information, other boys from the factory were rescued by the police. He testified in court with other children. After a long legal process, the accused trafficker Sonu was awarded a life term.
Rahul’s father passed away recently and he lives with his widowed mother, who works as a maid to make a living.
Ashish Kumar, a member of the Mahadalit Manjhi family, of Samod Bigha, Sherghati is elated as he has just passed his matriculation examination with second division. His is not an ordinary success. Nearly five years ago, Ashish was forced to work at a bangle factory in Jaipur. He was trafficked in 2016 and rescued in 2017.
His father Yogendra Manjhi expresses joy that his eldest son Ashish is now a ‘Matric-Pass’. Ashish is the first member of his family to pass the 10th class examination, that too after dropping out in class 8.
During his stay at the bangle factory, Ashish suffered lung-related complications as small particles of ‘Nags’ got stuck in his lungs. After being rescued he was put in a Bal Grih or a Children Shelter Home. Soon afterwards, he got admission to a skill developing centre run by NGO center-Direct. He received training in personality development and basic computer skills. Equipped with these skills, he got admission to Ranglal High School of Sherghati in Gaya.
Talking to TwoCircles.net, Ashish said he wants to become a teacher. “Bahut padhna hai (I have to study a lot),” he said.
Ashish plans on getting admission at a higher secondary school. He idolizes Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and wants to be as successful as the batting maestro.
Sami Ahmad is a freelance journalist based in Patna, Bihar.
The story was done under Thomson Reuters Foundation Mentoring Program.