‘Lured For Job’: Inside Kashmir’s Child Trafficking Network

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Some were smuggled in sleep while others were shipped as spouses. But in the region where Bengali brides are part of the ‘distress and destitute’ marriages, the consultancies are now fast faring on radar for luring non-native minors for job.

ROHAN was brought to Kashmir with the promise of a high paying job. But little did he know that he would end up as a household worker in southern Kashmir’s Pulwama area.

Before his unwitting valley visit, the minor was living in an ashram in Assam, where he used to work at weddings to earn his livelihood.

One day while returning from a wedding at night, he met a person who asked him if he wanted to earn more money. Rohan who had no one in his family except his little sister decided to go with the man in search of work.

Exhausted by the work, he slept on the train, unknown of the place the man was taking him. When he woke up he was on his way to Jammu.

“Rohan was brought to Pulwama through a consultancy firm who told us that he was an adult,” said Tawseef Ahmad Ganai, a member of Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Pulwama.

When Ganai got information about Rohan, he alerted the District Child Protection Unit (DCPO) who gave the boy’s custody to the CWC.

On examination, it was found out that Rohan was a student of 8th class, when brought to Kashmir—“meaning that he was around 13 years old,” said Ganai.

The consultancy firm was given a warning and since then it is under the scanner of the CWC, Ganai told Kashmir Observer.

People believe that there is no human trafficking in Jammu & Kashmir, but they’re wrong, said Mohammad Sharif Bhat, J&K and Ladakh head of NGO, Save the Children. “I’ve seen many people having minor non-Kashmiri servants in their homes,” he said.

Three years ago, Bhat came across a minor girl from Kolkata who was found on a farm in northern Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Alerted by the Information District Social Welfare Officer, the NGO soon rescued the traumatized kid.

“I took her to the hospital and informed the concerned authorities,” said Bhat. “It was later found out that the girl was suffering from tuberculosis.”

As per the records of Save the Children, a majority of minors are trafficked to Kashmir from Jharkhand. However, according to a study by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2019, most incidents of children missing are reported from Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi and Bihar.

The common causes of trafficking were forced marriages, child labour, domestic help and sexual exploitation, among others, mentioned the study.

As per the data of 2011 Census, India had 10.13 million child labourers, between the age of 5-14, with Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh being the most affected states.

Kashmir receives many minors through consultancy firms who are employed as house workers.

A majority of such helpers are employed in Srinagar, said Farooq Ahmad, a Srinagar CWC member. Minor girls exceed boys in the city, he added, and their number is only increasing.

Recently, Farooq came across two-three minors who were brought to the valley through consultancy agencies. One of them was a minor girl from West Bengal whose mother had died and her father, a drunkard, sold her to the agency which brought her to Kashmir, Farooq told Kashmir Observer.

Due to the pandemic, the minor girl was kept at a shelter in Srinagar for some time, before sent to the West Bengal CWC.

However, the condition in other districts of Kashmir is relatively better. According to Fahmeeda Maqbool, Chairperson CWC Ganderbal, the number of cases of non-Kashmiri minor helpers is quite less in her district.

On being asked how the CWC handles such cases, Maqbool said that at first the date of birth is checked and if it does not comply with the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, the child is taken under the care of CWC, and strict action is taken against the offender.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 prohibits employing children below 14 and 15 years, but there is no procedure laid down in any law for deciding in which employment children are banned.

The Act was first amended in 2016, and then again in 2017. The current Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14, but they can work in family business/enterprises, only if they are non-hazardous.

Advocate Shah Faisal, J&K director of Human Right Law Network (HRLN), told Kashmir Observer that he comes across numerous cases of minors being held by people without their will.

“There was this case of a child from West Bengal who wanted to go back home but the household where he was working didn’t let him leave,” Faisal said.

“After I filed a complaint against the family to the Chief Magistrate, the child was brought immediately and proper action was taken against the family.”

Another case which the advocate recalled is of a 15-year-old Rohingya girl who was sold in Delhi at Rs 70,000 to a Kashmiri, who married her soon after arriving in the valley.

The girl’s uncle contacted Faisal and a writ petition was filed to rescue her.

According to the advocate, the consultancy agencies which bring minors to Kashmir violate many norms. They provide a fake list, filled with fake numbers of parents of the minors, Faisal said. “While most of the agencies claim that the child does not have a birth certificate, they consider them above 18.”

Even the families hiring minor helpers justify themselves by saying that without their assistance the child would starve, he said.

“But money paid by the families is not paid to the minor but to their agents,” asserted the advocate. “This is totally an inhuman act which should be tackled strongly.”

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Swati Joshi

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