Each story is sadder than the next, but what is most heartbreaking is to see the indifference shown towards these children by the police.
Rashme Sehgal reports.
India is reported to have 12 million children working in forced labour. The figure alone would boggle the mind and yet this is an issue no wants to address.
It is to break this silence of complicity that the NGO HAQ: Centre for Child Rights and Campaign Against Child Trafficking decided to organise a public hearing in mid-June, the first of its kind in India, where children who had faced the trauma of being trafficked went public with their horrifying stories.
Each testimony is sadder than the next, but what is most heartbreaking is to see the indifference shown towards these children by the police and other law enforcement agencies.
Some of the pain suffered by these young lives could have been mitigated if the police had taken timely action. A common thread that runs through these young lives is that of poverty and how many of them tried to escape their plight by wanting to make some easy money.
A 13-year-old child told the jury, comprising of former additional solicitor general Siddhartha Luthra, theatre personality Lushin Dubey and journalist Om Thanvi, of how she was on her way to the neighbourhood market along with two of her friends when she was kidnapped by two men she had seen in the colony.
She was drugged and kept in an isolated room where she was raped and then, one week later, sold to become a prostitute for Rs 200,000.
Her kidnappers gave her a daily dose of steroids so she could look like a grown woman, after which she was sold to a brothel in Siliguri, West Bengal, for Rs 800,000. The brothel's owner forced her to engage both in prostitution and drug peddling.
Meanwhile, her parents had filed a missing persons complaint. After seven months, the family sought the help of Sharan, an NGO working on drug de-addiction in the Nizamuddin Basti, New Delhi.
Sharan referred the case to HAQ: Centre for Child Rights. A habeas corpus petition had to be filed to get the police to take action.
By this time another three months had elapsed. In a case where perhaps every second mattered, the delays only added to her suffering. The local police had failed to even trace the mobile numbers from which she had tried to call her mother.
HAQ, along with the anti-trafficking group Shakti Vahini, met a senior police officer to get the case transferred to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit which finally resulted in her getting rescued from the Khalpara district in Siliguri's red light area.
Even after her rescue, the police took its time over arresting the men who had kidnapped her.
The girl's ordeal lasted more than three years, but what was even more traumatic was for her to testify in court. Even after eight appearances, she continues to have to visit court and repeat her experiences in public.
Even a timely intervention by the police does not always bring about relief as was the case of a 14 year old who was trafficked from North 24 Parganas, Bengal, by her neighbour, who taking advantage of her family's poverty, lured her to Delhi on the promise of providing her with a good job.
En route, the man sold her to a woman in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, who forced her into prostitution. A fortnight later, five to six men were taking her somewhere when some policemen chanced to pass by.
Scared of the police, the men ran away and the police took this crying girl to the Nirmal Chhaya shelter home where she stayed for two months during which period her family members were identified.
The neighbour was arrested and released on bail within one week while this girl's case has been pending for the last ten years.
Although her mother, who works as a daily labourer, welcomed her back, the other villagers did not want her to live there and so she was sent to a shelter home run by the NGO Jabala.
Jabala took the initiative of getting her admitted to a local school. When she turned 18, this young girl told the jury members that she began working in a police canteen supervised by Jabala and has presently joined the Green Police in Kolkata.
The modus operandi to lure women into prostitution often varies.
A 16-year-old girl studying in Class 8 from North 24 Parganas became close to an individual with whom she had a phone conversation.
A series of such conversations saw him promise to marry her, and so she left her parents' home to meet her 'telephone friend' in Pune, Maharashtra.
When she reached Pune, he refused to marry her and sold her to a stranger who forced her into prostitution.
She was rescued from a flat in Farashkhana, Pune, by two NGOs, Jabala of West Bengal and the Rescue Foundation in Maharashtra who helped ensure the trafficker was convicted.
Her family, however, did not want her back and it was only through Jabala's initiative that she was accepted back into the fold. Jabala helped provide her with vocational training and she presently works in a police canteen run by Jabala in Kolkata.
Another survivor from Assam gave testimony about how she was preparing for her Class 10 exams when a friend of hers introduced her to a man who promised to take her to Chennai where he would ensure she got a good job and also marry her.
Thus lured with the promise of marriage, she was first brought to Delhi and later taken to Fatehabad, Haryana, where she was kept in confinement for 15 days, raped by multiple men including the man who promised to amrry her, and forced into sexual slavery.
After 15 days, she was sold to another man where she was made to work through the day and sexually abused at night.
The survivor informed the jury that she managed to get hold of a mobile phone and contact her parents who reported the matter to the local police in Assam.
The police sought Shakti Vahini's help and the girl was rescued. A case was registered in Assam against the perpetrators.
She was produced before the child welfare committee in Fatehabad and as per its order, was sent back to Assam where she was able to appear for her Class 10 and 12 exams. She is not able to study further because her father, a daily wager, lacks the means to educate her.
Another horrifying story is that of a 14 year old whose parents agreed to marry her to a 40-year-old man who claimed to belong to a rich Kanpur family. He paid the parents Rs 10,000 and bore the marriage expenses.
When this child reached Kanpur, she received a rude shock. Not only was she made to work as a domestic help, she was forbidden to step out of the house.
After a few weeks, her husband forced her into prostitution. She was compelled to sleep with various relatives of her husband. When she resisted, she was denied food.
She gave birth to two children, but the abuse continued till she fled with her children. When she left home, she was pregnant with her third child.
Her parents were not happy with her decision to return to them and kept asking her to return to her husband. There was no legal intervention in this case as her family refused to register a case. The police too do not seem to feel the need to proceed with any formal complaint.
Next: The fate of young boys forced into child labour