The trafficking of 589 children to shelter homes in Kerala has exposed a deep-rooted racket with a network in Gulf. Vicky Nanjappa reports
More that 589 children from two orphanages in Kozhikode and Malappuram, Kerala, were rescued in a case of suspected child trafficking last week.
The arrest of eight people based in West Bengal from the Palakkad railway station in connection with the alleged racket has brought under the scanner private shelter homes run in the state.
The children in the age group of eight to 13 were rescued after the arrest of the alleged traffickers, who were running orphanages in north Kerala. Children from the northeast, Bihar and Jharkhand were admitted to the orphanages and later sold into slavery. Most of these children were kidnapped or purchased from parents who find it difficult to make ends meet with the promise of a better life and education.
The Railway Protection Police found it suspicious that eight men were accompanied by over 100 children. First, a batch of 466 children from Bihar and Jharkhand arrived at the Palakkad railway station by the Patna-Ernakulam Express. Then came the second batch comprising 123 kids from West Bengal. The children were detained by the railway police as they arrived on May 24 and 25.
During the course of the investigation, three accused confessed that they were working for the Mukkam Muslim Orphanage and the others said they belonged to the Vettathur Anwarul Orphanage in Malappuram.
Further probe revealed that several such orphanages have mushroomed in north Kerala. These organisations have a team in Gulf countries that collects donations under the guise of child welfare. After a few years, the children are sold in the Gulf.
The children are purchased by the orphanages for anything between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000 depending on their age. A three-year-old is purchased for Rs 1,000 and a 12-year-old for Rs 3,000, the accused told the police.
The orphanages then sell these children in the Gulf for anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 100,000. The girls are forced into prostitution and the boys are employed as servants in the houses of the rich, the police investigation revealed.
“This is not a new racket. But after the recent arrests we have realised how deep-rooted this problem is. This is just a start. We will work on putting an end to this,” a police officer said.
Another police officer from Kerala said, “We are going to investigate the functioning of other orphanages in the state. If people have information, they should come forward,” he urged.
At the centre of the child trafficking racket is Mallapuram’s Vettathur Anwarul Orphanage. Over 125 children from West Bengal and Bangladesh have been admitted here over the past year.
The issue took a political turn after the Indian Union Muslim League, a partner of the ruling United Democratic Front, alleged conspiracy against their community. IUML General Secretary and Lok Sabha member E T Muhammad Basheer said, “I feel that there is something wrong in the manner in which the case is being probed.”
However, he had no answer when asked why the children were in the custody of the eight men without any proper documentation. The Kerala government is likely to hand over the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Image: The United Nations estimates that 700,000 to 4 million women and children are trafficked around the world for purposes of forced prostitution, labour and other forms of exploitation every year