Across India more than 60,000 children go missing every year. Unreported World explores the dark side of the booming economy, as many children are kidnapped into domestic slavery for the growing middle class and businesses, and others are kidnapped for ransom by those desperate to share some of the country’s new wealth.
In Delhi alone seven children go missing every day. Reporter Evan Williams and director James Brabazon discover that the capital has become a major destination and transit point for tens of thousands of children being trafficked into forced labour, prostitution, begging and drug running.
The team meets child saver Rishi Kant / SHAKTI VAHINI as he cajoles police into joining his rescue of a 16-year-old girl who has been abducted and sold into forced marriage near Delhi. India’s new wealth is allowing more men around the capital to buy ‘brides’ from traffickers in a booming business that seems largely unchecked by local police.
When the team asked the local police commander how big the problem was he said he didn’t know. The team and the girl’s parents are told to wait as Rishi enters a hostile area to save the girl, at one point being surrounded by 200 angry villagers opposed to her rescue.
The team later joins Bhuwan Ribhu, an activist from the Save the Childhood Movement, as his team launches a rescue in shoe and clothing factories in North Delhi.
Within 30 minutes Bhuwan and his team are leading 52 crying and frightened children out of Dickensian squalor where they had allegedly been forced to work 18-hour days for a pound a week that they had to use to buy their food.
Bhuwan tells the team that, according to police figures, almost 120,000 children were abducted in India in the past two years and the figures reveal police are investigating on 13,000 of these. He says the problem could be ten times worse than reported.
Many impoverished parents send their children with traffickers to cities on promises they will earn a living, learn a trade and get an education.
But Bhuwan says that once a child is in the hands of traffickers, in most cases they are cut off completely from their parents, not paid and forced into a life of labour and abuse. In this way, he says, consent is not informed consent and the child is by any legal definition kidnapped.
India’s booming economy is creating a new market too. Bhuwan claims thousands of children as young as 12 are now being trafficked into domestic slavery for the growing middle class in cities like Delhi.
He says the rich families pay an agency but the agency rarely pays the child, who then loses contact with their parents and is subjected to years of unpaid servitude, and in many cases abuse.
‘In and around Delhi alone there are 4000 placement agencies that have not been registered,’ Bhuwan tells the team. ‘We estimate hundreds of thousands of girls throughout the country are being used as domestic labourers, and all are minors.’
Williams and Brabazon rejoin Rishi Kant / SHAKTI VAHINI as he launches a night raid on one of these placement agencies. Inside they find a 12-year-old girl and three boys between the ages of 12 and 14. All have just arrived, are about to be sent to their middle-class masters and are confused and frightened.
Williams and Brabazon had earlier met an 18-year-old girl who had been kept by one family for five years. She says she was never paid and had been molested and eventually raped by a man in the family.
But it’s not just trafficking that exploits the children of India’s fast-expanding cities. The team meets several families whose children have been kidnapped for ransom by neighbours or gangs desperate for some of the wealth they see around them.
While some police seem to act quickly, many of the people the team speaks to complain about a lack of police action, especially for poor parents whose children are snatched for cash. Some parents get their children back but tragically many do not, even when they pay some of the money.