Do you suspect that a child trafficking network is involved in bringing children from other states to orphanages in Kerala?
Various government agencies have reported that large-scale child trafficking happens in the state during May-June. Last month, the Railway Police in Palakkad detained 588 children, who were brought from Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. The Railway Police registered a case under Section 370(5) of the IPC and arrested seven persons who accompanied the children. It is a clear case of child trafficking as per existing laws, punishable to the extent of seven years to life imprisonment, if found guilty. Preliminary investigation has revealed that these children were brought in for admission to two orphanages in Kerala. They had travelled from their destination without valid documents endorsing their travel or those required for the transfer of the child.
Trafficking of children was not punishable under law until 2013, when the Juvenile Justice Act was amended by bringing in stringent provisions. Now, the Act regulates trafficking of children to other states under whatever pretext. So, we took a serious view of the issue and investigated it. I found that the children from other states are brought into Kerala as orphans and admitted to orphanages as many of them are facing an acute shortage of inmates. But, the modus operandi used by the orphanages here is a clear violation of existing rules. Before shifting a child from his/her locality, s/he has to be produced before the Child Welfare Committee of the district where s/he was born. S/ he is also required to carry a destitution certificate issued by the village officer for admission into an orphanage. But these records were missing in the case of 588 children who were trafficked. So, this is a prima facie case of child trafficking. And I am bound to act as per the law.
Is it a fact that orphanages in Kerala use agents to lure children from other states?
The modus operandi in trafficking is always similar. How can a child know about an orphanage in the remote areas of Kerala and come here to get admission. It is unbelievable. So, middlemen are involved in trafficking children to Kerala. During my investigation, parents from Jharkhand informed me that agents are operating in their state; they persuade the parents to sent their children to orphanages in Kerala, promising good facilities and employment opportunities. The parents also informed that they paid money to these agents for admitting their children to these orphanages. So, it is clear that agents are operating in other states to bring children to Kerala.
Do you believe that orphanages in Kerala have been trafficking children for a long time?
I can’t comment on that because orphanages in Kerala have not provided documents regarding inmates from other states. They only provided the number of children who had been admitted. It needs to be probed. But, it is not the first time that children from other states have been admitted to orphanages in Kerala.
How do you plan to check child trafficking?
I am not acting on a personal basis. After receiving some complaints, Kerala State Human Rights Commission Chairman Justice (retd) JB Koshy had expressed his concern about the operation of orphanages in the state. We are bound to act on the issue as it is a matter of serious concern. As per the Orphanages and Charitable Homes Act, 1960, government grant is provided only for orphans or destitutes who were admitted from the state. Orphans from other states are not eligible for the grant. If any orphanage had taken government grant by listing the children from other states as locals, they would face prosecution. I have suggested that a comprehensive probe by a national investigation agency needs to be ordered. Only a national agency can effectively probe this issue because it involves trans-border trafficking.
Why are orphanages in Kerala looking for children from other states?
In the past few years, orphanages have mushroomed in Kerala. But it is a fact that the people in Kerala are not willing to send their children to orphanages. So, they can stay in business only by admitting children from other states. In fact, they are not helping the children when they uproot them from their environment. The government should conduct a study on what happens to the children who are trafficked from other states.