While this is surely a day to celebrate and raise a toast to the innocence, simplicity and joy of mankind which manifests itself only in our children, we will be failing as a society if we don’t not assess the plight of children victims of sexual crime, trafficking and forced criminality.
Team Herald spent considerable time moving around the state, and found, to their dismay so many stories of lost childhood on the beaches of Goa. They are full of very young boys and girls from 3 to 15, who come in droves and literally set up “shop”. While there is no evidence to pin them down to victims of trafficking, it is clear that they have no authority to conduct the business of selling toys, trinkets and other items.
What is alarming is such a rampant use of children for activities which actually involve monetary transactions. And each of this is covered by a well established network of people who play various roles. When Herald along with the NGO Scan India toured the beaches, the team found a very well organised network, which included the presence of “parents” with “documentary evidence" of the relationship, which makes it impossible to rescue them and lodge them in any shelter home including Apna Ghar.
The danger here, as pointed out by Calangute MLA is that their children can very well be prone to other dangers including attacked by drunk men on the beach. And this is not restricted to beaches in the Northern Coastal belt alone.
The shadow of child trafficking has to be looked at in the eye and brought out of the closet. And the misnomer is that trafficking only entails minors subjected to sexual crimes. The number of young children whose right to education and decent living are robbed each day, has to be arrested and that is a promise any civic society must make to its children.
The aspect of sexual trafficking within the ambit of child trafficking is also alarming. According to a study conducted last year by ARZ an NGO working to rehabilitate trafficked women and children, “Goa has become a source as well as transit destination for trafficking of women and children for sex trade with girls from 14 States, apart from some neighbouring countries, being trafficked here over the last three years”.
The study further revealed between 2014-15, the police had rounded up 560 touts involved in illegal activities and filed criminal cases against them for sex crime and trafficking. Most of these touts are from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Chennai, Kerala and Delhi.
On Children’s Day, we must also look the performance and role of Apna Ghar whose sole mandate is to shelter, protect and rehabilitate victims of sexual violence and children in conflict with the law. Of late Apna Ghar has in the centre of controversy over children fleeing from the home, allegedly indulging on criminal activity with a few cases of children alleging harassment and torture by Apna Ghar staff. Herald has always maintained that these are allegations, made by alleged victims who have in cases given the statements to NGO’s or activists. Apna Ghar, on their part has dismissed each of these complaints as utterly baseless and the handiwork of vested interests.
The best way to settle this is through a comprehensive inquiry, preferably by an outside agency because the faith of the people in protective homes like Apna Ghar needs to be restored. At the same time, many of the people who are working dedicatedly in improving the environment for these children in Apna Ghar need a level playing field and need to be cleared of charges, if they in the clear. They have as much right to present their side of the story, which will be in any case, up for scrutiny.
But especially on a day like this but not just on a day like this, it is vital that Apna Ghar remains the last shelter for those who do not have either hope or homes. And that sanctity much be ensured by course correcting only the real wrongs and exposing false allegations if any. Everyone needs to come clean for the sake of our children. Nothing is bigger than that.