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'Community involvement key to curbing child trafficking'

Justify FullPinki, a 14-year-old from a nondescript Rajasthan village, was forced into the flesh trade after her father sold her for Rs 10,000 to repay his loan.

Eleven-year-old Amit had to spend over 10 hours daily in hazardous conditions in a bangle factory in Uttar Pradesh's Firozabad district.

Radhika, a 14-year-old girl from a poor family in Andhra Pradesh's Kakinada district, had to work till midnight at a bank official's house where she was employed as a maid.

The trio are among the fortunate few to have been rescued and now having the opportunity to enjoy their rights to read and write.

But thousands of children are still waiting for such miracles to happen in their lives despite various laws that prevent child labour and immoral trafficking being in place.

"By making laws only we cannot curb these social menaces. What needs to be done is that to bring in awareness at the grass-root level and engaging the community where such crimes are originated to act against them," said Dola Mahapatra, national director of NGO ChildFund India.

"Unless, the community is committed to protect its children from being victims of trafficking and slavery, these crimes are likely to stay," he told.

"The people will act when you encourage them to act. And for it, you need to provide them financial and technical assistance, which we do religiously in hundreds of villages across the country," he said.

ChildFund, which has been working towards the well-being of poor children in about 80 districts across India, is celebrating its 60 years of work in the country.

According to Mahapatra, the biggest drawback is the lack of an adequate child protective system to prevent and respond to abuse and exploitation of children.

Many factors -- such as poverty, social isolation, parenting flaws -- can influence a child's vulnerability to trafficking.

"Thus, child trafficking must be addressed through a community-based approach seen through a child protective lens if children are to be protected from traffickers," he said.

It is estimated that about 200,000 people -- children and women -- are being trafficked every year in India. Only 10 per cent of them were smuggled abroad, while almost 90 per cent of the trade is interstate. So far the children are concerned, many are sold by their families, some are kidnapped, others lured by the promise of a better life both for themselves and their kin.

Though there is an Immoral Traffic Prevention Act in India, it only confined to those trafficked for prostitution. Hence, it does not provide comprehensive protection for children. Nor does the Act gives a clear definition of "trafficking".

According to UN Commission on Human Rights, trafficking means recruitment, transportation, sale or purchase, harbouring or receipt of any person by threat or use of violence.

A report by the National Human Rights Commission of India said that nearly 40,000 children are abducted every year of which about 11,000 remain untraced.

As per the latest report by the National Crime Records Bureau, over 2,800 cases related to human trafficking have been registered in 2009.

There have been reports that over 17,000 children went missing in Delhi between 2008 and 2010, and about 2,366 of them were yet to be traced. The NHRC has also expressed concern over the reports.

In the case of child labour, the situation is also alarming. According to International Labour Organisation (ILO), there is a large child labour force in India than anywhere else in the world.

Though official statistics put their number at around 12.6 million, unofficial figures say more than 55 million children slog for their survival in pathetic conditions.

They are forced to do hard work, are often deprived of food and rest. In October 2006, the government amended the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, enforcing a ban on employment of children under the age of 14. However, it seems to be on paper only, experts say.

The law is fine, but the problem remains in its implementation at ground level. And unless the community decides to act against employing children, the law can't alone solve the problem, said Mahapatra.

"The community can be encouraged to act against these social problems through capacity building or enabling the people to protect their children. And this can be done by providing financial and technical assistance," he said.

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