Traffickers rob Sunderbans kids of childhood

Sumati Yengkhom in TIMES OF INDIA

Patharpratima (South 24 Parganas): In July 2009, 10-year-old Farzara (all names changed) disappeared from Patharpratima’s Kishori Nagar. Three years have passed since then, but the girl remains untraced till now. Her parents fear the girl has been sold off to some brothel by traffickers.

“I fear that my daughter must have been thrown into flesh trade by now. It pains me when I think of the trauma she must be going through. Whatever condition she may be in, we want her back home,” the girl’s father lamented.Few kilometres away in Bhagatpur, Supratim Maji has been regretting sending her 15-year-old daughter off to Delhi for work. Anjali had left home in April 2007. The prospect of working as a domestic help, which would ensure the girl proper food and a few hundred rupees, was too lucrative. The family agreed when a ‘placement agency’ proposed that he girl be sent with them.

“We are too poor to feed our children. We thought by sending her off she would at least get food to eat,” regretted Maji.

Pockets in South 24-Parganas, specially Sandeshkhali and Patharpratima, have emerged as a hot spot for traffickers over the years. Police officers and NGOs working on the issue are concerned about the vulnerability of children from these regions. “There is an spurt in the number of minors missing from the pockets of the Sunderbans after Aila wrecked havoc in the island,” admitted a senior police officer.

The recorded number of minors missing from Patharpratima in 2011 alone was 39 while this year, the number stands at 19 till date. NGOs, however, said that the actual number could be much higher.

“Many cases go unreported. Sometimes, parents keep mum as long as they get money. Therefore, the actual number of missing children could be much higher. Moreover during raid and rescue we come across cases of minors who were not reported missing in the respective police stations ,” said Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based NGO.

In majority of the cases, parents themselves send their children with these ‘agencies’. They inform the police only when they fail to communicate with their children. However, police have been successful is rescuing some such children. “I fell into the trap of a neighbour who took me away on the pretext of giving me a job. I smelt a rat only when he confined me in a house in some nearby town. I shiver at the very thought of those tormenting days,” said a 18 year-old who was rescued by the police about six months ago.

As the girl broke down narrating her past ordeal in her Dholahat hut, DSP Papiya Sultana of the anti-trafficking unit of the district assured the girl of support. Egged on by the police, the girl completed Class XII this year. Police now plans to enroll her in computer training programme. The girl is now looking ahead to live a new life.

“I only know what I went through during my seven year stay in a Pune brothel. But I bore everything silently as there was no escape,” recounted Reshma. She now in her twenties however is back home after a police rescued her. On her tips police also nabbed the woman who ran the brothel and rescued six more girls hailing from different parts of south 24 Parganas.

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