Shadow pandemic

Context: A village volunteer from Gharabari village near Siliguri in West Bengal alerted the police of a child marriage in the first week of July. Thirteen-year-old was married off to a 35-year-old man in a discreet manner at her house.

More on news:

  • Her parents were warned and a case was filed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012 Act.

What are the causes of a shadow pandemic?

  • Causes: Acute poverty, worsened by the loss of jobs and incomes due to the lockdown, push poor people into the daily grind of labour work.
    • The distress and uncertainty is often seen as an elbow to those living on the borders to get rid of the alleged burden of feeding girl children.
  • Exploitation: Several girls are often made to believe that they are a liability to the family. Some victims of trafficking are also given false promises and money in advance of being abused.
    • They owe debt to the traffickers and are scared to run away. They are captured and enslaved into debt bondage, a cruel form of control and exploitation.
  • Covid-19 impact: In India, about 400 million people working in the informal economy are at risk of falling deeper into poverty due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
    • The economic distress has made girls and young women belonging to marginalised sections extra vulnerable.
  • Children are at heightened risk of exploitation: A 2018 study conducted by non-profit World Vision India revealed that Bengal has a high prevalence of child trafficking cases.
    • The study also highlighted that 48 per cent of the adolescent children in the state have at least one form of vulnerability that included cases where the child was an orphan, the primary care giver chronically sick and unable to work, etc.
  • Priority tasks: Governments are diverting resources to address the pandemic and the police have new tasks for the enforcement of lockdowns and social distancing, affecting their normal operational capacity.
    • Under these conditions, there is a future danger that investigating trafficking in persons would become a lower priority and that proactive inspection of suspect sites and cases would be reduced.
    • This may have an impact on arrests, investigations, prosecutions and convictions, leading to a climate of practical impunity where traffickers can operate with even lower risk of detection and conviction.

What are the steps to be taken?

  • Committees: In a situation where policing is overstretched, community-based vigilance committees should play a key role in mapping and monitoring the most vulnerable children who are at imminent risk.
  • Integrated Child Protection Scheme: The Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines to undertake such a mapping exercise under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme. Such identified children should also be linked with the various services initiated by both central as well as state government.

Way forward

  • Communities must look out for each other, support each other and report suspicious activities. The time has come for the government and society to unite and ensure to end child trafficking, for the greater good of our children.
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