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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

Child Trafficking: A Problem Worsened by COVID-19

By Aneesh Raj* & Tanya Biswas**


 
“The greater a child’s terror, and the earlier it is experienced, the harder it becomes to develop a strong and healthy sense of self.”

- Nathaniel Branden.

Introduction

In the last several decades, we have achieved significant progress in terms of child care and protection. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic poses a severe threat of backtracking. The pandemic has hit the life of children abruptly and made their survival worse than before. According to a report submitted by the National Commission for Protection of Children Rights(NCPCR) in the Supreme Court of India, over 75,000 children have either been orphaned or at least lost one of their parents during the pandemic. Due to COVID-19, children’s lives have become vulnerable. Many of them have either become victims of child trafficking or descend into various crimes. There is an increased risk of child sexual abuse and ill-treatment.


COVID-19 and Child Trafficking

Human Trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or delivery of people through various illegal means such as force, fraud or deception, to exploit them for profit.” People, regardless of their age and social background, may become victims of trafficking. However, children belonging to poor households are more prone to this. Human trafficking is a menace to society and also the propeller of various other crimes like sexual slavery, child marriage, panhandling, prostitution, child labour, drug-related crimes, terrorism and other illicit businesses.


Natural disaster acts as a catalyst for human trafficking. The advent of COVID-19 has intensified the cases of child trafficking in India and various other nations. Traffickers are taking gain of continued school closure and loss of family livelihood. Due to this loss, children suffer from hunger and acute shortage of their essential needs; therefore, they have become easy prey to traffickers. According to a child right Non-governmental Organization (NGO) report named 'Bachpan Bachao Andolan,’ more than 9000 children have been rescued so far since the pandemic began. It means that in the last year, around 25 children have been trafficked every day. These trafficking children are often exploited in illegal, informal and unregulated sectors.


Child trafficking in the state of Bihar is rampant during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 300 children have been rescued from the clutches of traffickers in the last three months. Last year, four children whose age was between 12 and 16 years had found dead at lac bangle making unit. These children were trafficked from different parts of Bihar to Rajasthan to work as a labourer in these bangle making factories. It is a hazardous occupation and often has serious health repercussions because children are exposed to harmful chemicals, dangerous tools, etc. The nationwide lockdown has evil consequences as it left many people jobless. The plight of migrant workers in Bihar is worse than ever. They are battling for their survival in the absence of any jobs. Therefore, the poor villagers are sending their children to work so that they could support the family. However, in light of this, they failed to realize that their children get worse treatment and are exploited by the factory owners.


The increased internet use during the pandemic has also spiked the graph of cyber-trafficking. A report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) divulges that loss of livelihood during the pandemic and the increasing amount of time spent online has increased the vulnerability of children. Along with this, it has raised the risk of online sexual abuse. Traffickers often use online social media platforms and free messaging apps to contact young children. In the pretext of offering employment, they can easily allure them. Once removed from their locality, these children face multiple challenges because of lack of resources, unfamiliarity with the area and other factors and become dependent upon the mercy of traffickers for basic needs of survival and face various hardships.


Only Making Stringent Laws to Combat Trafficking Is Not A Solution

Children have been given special protection within national and international jurisprudence. India has a wide range of laws to protect children. Child protection is increasingly accepted as a core component of social development. There are various stringent laws to combat child trafficking. Section-370(4) of the Indian Penal Code-1860 states that “where the crime contains the trafficking of a minor, it shall be punishable with severe incarceration for a term which shall not be less than 10 years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” The major child protection laws and provisions against trafficking of children are found in The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act- 2015. Section- 79 of JJ Act states that “notwithstanding anything contained in any law or regulation for the period being in force, whoever allegedly involves a child and keeps him in slavery to hire or reserves his wages or uses such receiving for his purposes shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5-years and shall also be liable to fine of one lakh rupees.”


Despite such stringent laws, we are incapable of countering trafficking. The United States of America, in its trafficking in persons, the report placed India as a tier-2 nation. The report states that “overall law enforcement efforts across the country, especially against the bonded labour, remain insufficient compare to the gravity of the problem. The rule necessitates police to file a First Information Report upon the recipient of information about the commission of a cognizable offence, like forced labour or sexual slavery.” It legally bound police to initiate a criminal investigation.” This implies that only making stringent laws are not enough. The law needs to be implemented effectively as well. Legislating without the political will to implement and monitor its effectiveness is futile. Hence, efforts should be made to improve the working of existing institutionalism mechanisms.


Along with this, there is a need to understand the sociology behind child trafficking. The root of trafficking lies in poverty, unemployment, illiteracy etc. Most victims of trafficking belong from low-earning households. In most cases, parent themselves send their children to work so that he/she could support the family. Hence, the focus should be on countering these challenges by improving their standard of living, increasing literacy, ending poverty, etc.


Suggestions To Combat Child Trafficking and Conclusion

Human trafficking is prevalent because of the failure of our societies and the lack of a mechanism to protect the rights of the most vulnerable groups. During the COVID-19, where our efforts are intended to curb the spread of the virus, we must not oversee the real and tangible risks that this extraordinary situation presents for susceptible individuals and groups, who are not always very discernable in our societies. Law enforcement agencies and various NGOs working for child welfare need to be more vigilant in monitoring the situation. At the same time, ordinary people should also be vigilant and aware. Parents should monitor their children's online activities.


There is high pendency of cases in courts due to which the trial can drag on for years. In many cases, victims withdraw their complaints as they could not support expenses. Hence, emphasis should be made on the faster disposal of cases. This can be done by establishing “fast track” courts. Further, the government should launch various awareness programs to make young children more aware. In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government should provide all the basic needs to all pandemic hit families. The COVID-19 has left thousands of children orphaned. Hence, the government must embrace them.


Therefore, it is crucial to take an immediate step to implement all suggested methods effectively and adequately. Then, only we can secure a better life for millions of children at a higher risk of vulnerability because of the COVID-19 crisis.



 

* 1st Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam

** 2nd Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala

 

(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)

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