India’s Child Savers: The Making of…


Friday 18 November 2011 / Evan Williams

“I just want my daughter back, I just want my daughter back,” said 40-year-old Sunabhamu Begam as we sped across the Indian countryside towards the village just outside Delhi where her 16-year-old daughter, Mahinda, was held captive.

After going missing five months ago, Mahinda managed to get one phone call through to her parents. She gave them a rough description of what she could see – a large body of water and a chemists shop. Before hanging up she hurriedly ended with the words “Please Help Me”.

When Sunabhamu and her husband Chandan went to the police, they say they were asked for money before a complaint could be lodged and an investigation started. They didn’t have that money. Eventually they heard about Rishi Kant who runs an NGO in Delhi that does what the police should be doing – rescuing children. It was Rishi who finally got the police to trace the location of the number and pushed the police in this area to join the raid.

We have heard about child disappearances in India. But what caught my attention was the sheer scale. It is staggering. According to the government’s own figures up to 60,000 children go missing in India every year. Seven children a day are snatched and many are trafficked into bonded labour, prostitution, forced begging even selling drugs. If they are paid it’s a pittance, they are denied their freedom, made to work long hours and often abused. They are lost souls.

Bhuwan Ribhu, who runs an organization called Save the Childhood Movement, told us of the 117,000 children who went missing in the past two years. 41,000 remain untraced.

 This is from official figures. In the first attempt to work out the real number of missing children in India, Bhuwan has collated figures from his group’s work in rescuing large numbers of children. He believes the number of children going missing each year could be ten times higher. “Of the 1000 children we rescued in 2010 more than 900 would be construed as missing, most parents did not know where they were,” he said. They had not been listed as missing in any official figures, “So the real figure could be hundreds of thousands (of kidnapped children) – even more than a million – very year”. The Indian Government agrees there is a problem and recently set up anti-trafficking units across India.

Why so many? Well Bhuwan has worked out that because of the slave-like conditions, child labour could be worth millions of pounds each year to the Indian economy.

The booming economy has also sparked a boom in a newer form of exploitation involving the rapidly growing middle class. Tens of thousands of young girls and boys under 18 are being trafficked from rural villages to the cities such as Delhi to work as maids and domestic servants for young professional families who find they need help to run their homes and look after their children.

On one rescue with Rishi we found a 12 year old girl who had just been trafficked in to Delhi. In the same house he found five young boys around the ages of 12 and 14 also about to be sent out as domestic servants.

And there is a new terror stalking the shopping malls and streets of Delhi’s new satellite cities. New Wealth has created a new phenomenon of children being kidnapped for ransom.

Out of the many unsettling moments we witnessed, nothing prepares you for looking into the eyes of a parent with a missing child, especially one who has been taken for ransom and who has not been seen for weeks or months.

They obviously still live in hope that at any moment their child could return. But in their eyes is a terrible haunting helplessness that is simply heartbreaking.

This article relates to India’s Child Savers

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