With around 1,000 children, under the age of 15, going missing each passing year in Kerala, the state officials including politicians, police and child protection commission members are groping in the dark to curb the situation.
Though the police manage to find a majority of the kids, the conundrum of what and who caused the children disappear remains unresolved. The rise in the number of beggars in the State makes the people suspicious about the presence of a highly-connected and evolved beggar mafia behind the children’s disappearance.
Records of ‘Track Child’ system show that 874 children in Kerala went missing in the last one year, among which the police could recover 573 children. On August 22, five children have been reported missing and the police could track four of them. Though there are systems like ‘Track Child’ to trace the missing children, the number of cases being reported or known to the officials remains far away from the reality. ‘Track Child’ is a Central Government initiative to find missing children and the operation is jointly being carried out by the police, public and the Childline.
“I am not sure if all the children who go missing are being trafficked by the beggar mafia working here. The mafia is a reality. At least 10,000 beggars are begging each day in the State. People who beg in Kochi earn at least Rs.750 a day. They live in rented houses and are affiliated to any of the mafia groups. These mafias kidnap children from trains and other public places. This is happening. We have rescued many children from such groups,” says ‘Theruvoram’ Murugan, an activist based in Kochi, who works for street lives. Even though the Kerala High Court have restricted begging in Kochi, beggars continue thriving in the city without fear of law.
“Six months ago, a raid was conducted among the beggars in Ernakulam district under the auspices of various social activist groups. During this raid, a kid, aged around two-three years was rescued from a beggar group. When we asked those people to enter into the ambulance in which they were evacuated, a woman who carried the kid threw him out of the vehicle. This made us sceptic and the child was rescued and enrolled in an orphanage. It is just one among the many such incidents,” Murugan said.
Children are being trafficked for domestic labour as well. Murugan S. and his team have rescued a kid from a devastating situation he was facing, where he worked as a labourer. “The major problem is that we still don’t have safe places for these children to be housed. Government-run orphanages are limited in number. The private parties run these organisations aiming business. The children who reside in these places are having no proof for their existence. So if they go missing or something happens to them, there is sheer lack of data to prove their identity. I strongly suggest the Government to prepare a detailed database of the children who reside in orphanages and they should also be given identity cards,” Murugan opined.
The Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Shoba Koshy pointed out that the commission had observed several discrepancies in the working of ‘Track Child’ as the system was not beneficial to many children who would not have proof of identity or even photographs. “We have recommended the Central Government to modify the system to include maximum possible children. We are counting the missing children cases and analysing the data. The process is going on. We have to find out the number of boys and girls separately. Besides, the district-wise data needs to be prepared. It will take at least 10 days. We should investigate if the children who went missing were taken away by the beggar mafia itself. We cannot say it as a rough speculation,” she said.
Even though we have funds, system and dedicated officials to handle the children missing cases, the increasing number of missing children cases indicate that stringent measures have to be followed to bring the culprits before law. The Kerala police had made it clear before the High Court that 50 children who went missing in the last three years have not been recovered yet. 2,221 children had gone missing in the last three years, out of which the police could rescue 2,171 children.
Cover image has been taken from ‘The Swaddle’ website.