Edited Excerpts from an interview
When did you come to know about the incident?
On 24 May, the Railway Police in Palakkad informed us about the arrival of 455 children from Jharkhand and Bihar and registered a case of child trafficking. The kids were produced before us and we provided them accommodation in various orphanages in the district. There were no valid documents to prove that they were taken from their states with the consent of the authorities. So, we asked them to produce valid documents about the identities of the children and reported the matter to the state government. The next day, another batch of 123 children arrived from Malda district of West Bengal. We don’t have enough institutions that can accommodate all these children in Palakkad. So, we transferred them to the Child Welfare Committee in Thrissur.
Did you find any evidence of child trafficking?
We are not policing child trafficking. Our primary responsibility is to ensure juvenile justice and the protection of child rights. When the children were produced, first we looked into the primary area of violation of child rights during their travel to Kerala. We found that 455 children from Jharkhand and Bihar were dumped into three railway compartments along with 33 adults. The children told us that five-six of them were made to share one berth. Nearly 160 children were travelling without tickets. They were not accompanied by doctors. You can imagine how terrible their journey was — no proper food, not enough toilets and no proper sleep during 50 hours of journey. Transporting children without proper care is a basic violation of child rights.
Regarding trafficking, the Juvenile Justice Act clearly specifies how orphans should be transferred to other states. First, the children should be produced before the Child Welfare Committee or the district magistrate of their respective residential areas; second, they should have a destitute certificate and the consent of their guardians along with their birth certificates. But the children who arrived in Palakkad had none of these documents. The caretakers who accompanied the children could not provide any satisfactory explanation for bringing these children to Kerala. They told us that 455 children were to join the Mukkam Muslim Orphanage in Kozhikode and 123 children were to join the Anwarul Huda Complex Orphanage at Vettathoor in Malapuram district. So, we suspected child trafficking in the case and directed the police to investigate the matter.
Do you believe that orphanages in Kerala are trafficking the children from other states to get government grants?
It is a matter that the police and state government should investigate. Our duty is only to protect the rights of the children. In this case, there is a clear violation of child rights. We will issue notices to the violators.
Some Muslim organisations have attacked the Child Welfare Committee and the police for registering cases against the orphanages. Do you feel any political or communal pressure while delivering your duties?
I am not a person who is carried away by good words or pained by criticism. I am doing my duties within a legal framework. Some may like it and others may oppose it. I’m least bothered about what others feel about my work. My attempt is to ensure a fair world for the children. We can’t turn a blind eye towards the violation of child rights. It is a barbaric act.