Children between the ages of 10 and 14 continue to be brought to Garden City from villages in north India after their parents are paid a nominal amount and promised a job, shelter and work in Karnataka.
A Ganesh Nadar reports.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, Bengaluru in 2017 became the top hub for child traffickers who use them for begging.
According to P Lakshapathi, executive director of the Association for Promoting Social Action, children between the ages of 10 and 14 are brought to Garden City from villages in north India after their parents are paid a nominal amount and promised a job, shelter and work in Karnataka.
The children are then used for begging at various traffic signals in Bengaluru, says APSA which has conducted research on the subject.
"We found that they spent a certain time at every signal, and after a few hours they were taken to other signals and the children from there were interchanged here. They are very well organised," Lakshapathi tells Rediff.com of the network of child traffickers behind the racket.
After observing them over a period of time, the NGO rescued the children with the help of the police during Operation Smile, a central government venture to rescue missing children two years ago.
"While the children were in our custody, there was a lot of pressure on us that we had no right to keep other people's children. After we sent the children to government homes, they stopped troubling us," says Lakshapathi, left.
One would think that the problem is solved once the children are rescued, but it is not. Even before the police can contact the children's parents in their home state, the traffickers send relatives with a lawyer to claim the child.
"The trafficker stays in the background, he never appears. He sends a lawyer with the parent or guardian to the children's home to claim the child. The lawyer and the relative appear before the government child welfare committee and ask for the child," Lakshapathi says.
"They tell the officers they had sent the child for schooling or work here and were sorry that they were begging. They were not aware of it and wanted the child back. When the child agrees to go with them, we cannot do anything," Lakshapathi adds.
"One of the reasons the child agrees to go with them is because in the government children's shelter they are clothed and fed and have access to schooling, but they cannot roam around freely. With the traffickers they roam the city the whole day and in the night they even have access to drugs."
There have been instances when the same child has been caught in Bengaluru begging again.
As the children have access to drugs, they become addicts and when they grow up they become drug peddlers.
APSA mans the government's child helpline, number 1098, in Bengaluru and rescues children who call them; they also rescue children found begging or are being used as child labour.
But it is a losing battle they fight, Lakshapathi says, as long as parents continue to send their children with the traffickers willingly.
The facts speak for themselves: In 2016 not a single child trafficker was convicted in India. In 2017, five against whom child trafficking cases were filed were acquitted.