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Trafficked children head back home from southern India

Hundreds brought to Kerala so grants and food aid could be claimed reporter, Thiruvananthapuram

June 7, 2014

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Authorities in Kerala are taking steps to send hundreds of children back to their home states after a massive trafficking racket was exposed.

Manish Ranjan, Labor Commissioner of Jharkhand, told on Friday that his government has decided to take back 153 children who were trafficked to Kerala on May 24.

"We have requested railway authorities to sanction special coaches for our return travel and issue 191 seats for the journey,” Ranjan said. “We have 153 children, 30 parents and eight officials escorting them back.”

Kerala railway police apprehended 455 children from Jharkhand and Bihar states, all aged under 12, when they arrived at Palakkad railway station on May 24. They were accompanied by a number of adults.

M Binu, inspector of railway police at Palakkad, said the children had no valid documents, so police called in the state’s Child Welfare Committee (CWC), which lodged the children in different orphanages.

The following day, a further 123 children from Jharkhand were detained at the same station, along with four adults.

Talking to on Friday, Deputy Inspector S Sreejith, who has special responsibilities for anti-trafficking, described the incidents as "prima facie cases of trafficking."

According to a police source who asked to remain anonymous, hundreds of children are trafficked to orphanages in Kerala in order to claim monetary aid and subsidized food from the state. As orphans are relatively few in Kerala because of low birth rates, the source alleged that some orphanages pay agents to bring children from other, more impoverished states.

“Children from other states are not eligible for grants. So they fake documents to show these as destitute children from Kerala,” the source said.

Father Jose Paul, chairman of CWC in the Palakkad district, called for a full investigation, capture and punishment of the culprits. Trafficking of children from other states "is a serious offence, which can be punished with a jail term of 10 years to life," he said.

His remarks have sparked something of a political storm in Kerala, with Muslim leaders alleging that CWC has overstepped its domain, and strongly denouncing the implication that Muslim charity organizations may be associated with child traffickers.

But Fr Paul countered that “we are only bothered about the violation of child rights."

He pointed out that 455 children and 33 adults were made to travel for 50 hours in three compartments which were designed to take a combined total of only 219 passengers.

"There were not enough space, food, water or adults to care for them,” he said. “Such travel is a clear violation of children’s rights. We can’t turn a blind eye.”

Mohammed Quddus Ansari, a parent from Jharkhand who came to Palakkad after police detained his son, told that he paid 1500 rupees (US$25) to agent Mohammed Alangir.

“He approached me three months back and promised the best education for my son that could make him a doctor or engineer if he was sent to Kerala,” said Ansari. “I didn’t know he was part of a child trafficking ring.”

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