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'Victims of child trafficking': Ugly truth behind many missing girls who ‘elope’ to marry

By Anil Pandey* 

There are often reports of young minor girls eloping with someone in pursuit of marriage, and many families end up either disowning such children or give up searching for them assuming they have left their parental homes on their own. But a recent incident at Mughalsarai Railway Station shakes this entire belief and makes everyone question if the files of such children are being closed too soon.
Two minor girls, Adya and Amisha (names changed), were rescued from being trafficked to Tamil Nadu to allegedly work in a thread factory in Virudhunagar. While Adya is 13-year-old, Amisha is 16-year-old. Both the girls belong to Mohammadabad in Ghazipur district, Uttar Pradesh.
While the little girls were sold dreams of a better, prosperous future, their parents were made to believe that like many other girls of their daughters’ age, they too have found a partner and have chosen to leave behind their families.
When the team of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, along with Railways Protection Force (RPF) and police team rescued the two children, they were being trafficked by a woman named Anita (20).
An FIR has been registered against the accused in the GRP Mughalsarai police station in Chandoli district in Uttar Pradesh on May 29. She had allegedly called the two girls on the pretext of getting their aadhaar cards made.
According to the FIR statement, Anita said, “I am taking these girls to work in a thread factory. They will earn Rs 7,500 every month.”
To make sure that the families did not come looking for the girls, the girls were made to call their parents and tell them that they would never come home. They were even instructed to ask their parents to not call them up again.
Asking the girls to make this call had more reasons than one. Traffickers often create such situations or weave a story that shifts the case from “missing” to “eloped”. It is an unfortunate truth that while families of missing children would leave no stone unturned when looking for their children, the ones who elope with someone are often disowned, forgotten and ostracized by their own families.
Same happened with the families of Adya and Amisha. Distraught but clueless parents tried searching for them, but eventually gave up, assuming that their little girls had eloped and would never come back.
Child traffickers often stage a narrative that forces families to believe that their missing children have eloped with someone
Meanwhile, right after the call was made, their phones were taken away and switched off. Reacting on a tip off, when a joint team of BBA and RPF rescued the girls and called the parents thereafter, they were stunned and inconsolable at the thought of what their daughters were being pushed into. They were to be taken 3,000 km away from their native place and without the prompt rescue operation, they would have ended up as child labourers.
“Child traffickers often stage such a narrative that forces families to believe that their missing children have eloped with someone. Given the social stigma attached to such cases, families often end up disowning their children and make no efforts to search for these missing children. Unfortunately, traffickers all over have been using this social mind set in their favour for years,” Dhananjay Tingal, executive director, BBA, said.
In a judgement on missing children in a PIL filed by BBA, the Supreme Court had directed that in case of every missing child reported, there would be an initial presumption of either abduction or trafficking. The reality, however, still remains grim. Not every missing child’s complaint is registered and more so when the child is presumed to have eloped.
According to the 2021 data published in Crime in India, National Crime Records Bureau, out of the reported 69,014 cases of abduction of children, 7,901 cases reported were said to be of elopement. But can we really be so sure? How do we know that all those 7,901 children, who went missing in 2021, are not in some dungeon slogging day and night with no food, water, freedom, respect or love?
Can we really shut these cases when many of these children may have already been bought and sold multiple times by traffickers even as the families self-soothe and live with a belief that their children eloped with the ones they loved.
---
*Media strategist and director, India for Children

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