By Priyadarshini Laishram
At an age when the whole International community has geared up to combat the complex problem of human trafficking and specifically child trafficking, the menace of this deplorable crime has not spared even this tiny State of ours called Manipur. Though the Social Welfare Department, Police department and several NGOs have been putting in their utmost effort with various approaches and initiatives to combat this problem yet, there seems to be an increasing trend in the graph for occurrences of child trafficking in our state. There are lacunae and gaps perhaps in the approaches, strategies or initiatives taken up because of which the organized crime is able to show its ugly face time and again and with the recently reported cases of children missing from homes or being trafficked purportedly to be recruited as child soldiers, the matter all the more needs a deeper speculation and analysis.
The 1989 U.N Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a child means every human being below the age of 18 years though some countries have chosen to set the “age of majority” lower than 18.The Convention on the Rights of the Child, a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations provides protection and support for the rights of the children. In adopting the convention the International Community recognized that people under 18 years of age often need special care and protection. To help stem the growing abuse and exploitation of children worldwide the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 adopted two Optional Protocols to the convention to increase the protection of children from involvement in armed conflict and sexual exploitation. The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict establishes 18 as the minimum age for recruitment in the armed forces and requires the State to do everything they can to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from taking a direct part in hostilities. Though the optional protocol as such is not in a binding nature, yet every state and non state actors who are protagonists of the philosophy of human rights and human dignity are expected to set their rules and regulations and standards in line with the convention guidelines. Despite all the conventions, protocols, recommendations and declarations the malaise goes unabated.
From the trend and information available regarding child trafficking in Manipur it may be drawn that our state is the origin and not destination of child trafficking. Children may be trafficked for forced labour, for use in drug trade as couriers and then “paid” in drugs so that they become addicted and further entrapped, forced begging by sometimes maiming them, military purpose etc. Children may be trafficked for military purpose to be used as child soldiers taking direct part in hostilities, in other supporting roles such as messengers, porters, spies, look-outs or for political advantage either as human shields or in propaganda. In our state too with decades old insurgency movement creating a situation of unrest and uncertainty, society at a crossroad with numerous issues, cases of children being trafficked outside the state have been reported and today again news has hit the headlines that children are missing from their homes and trafficked purportedly for being recruited as child soldiers in some armed outfits. Because the local media, both print and electronic came out with a good reporting about the deplorable episode of the abduction of children purportedly for being recruited in armed outfits and the public raised a hue and cry that it has become pronounced and clear that people are out and out against such kind of abuse of children. It is not lost in the minds of the public that it is after all the protests and demonstrations that the three young children from Lamsang were found/ rescued from Moreh and another one from Chandel. It is for all to understand why the boys have been quoted as saying that they left their homes on their own to join the armed outfit. The writing on the wall is clear and while the incident has sparked wide public outrage it is just that the folks behind the crime do not have the moral courage to admit and declare their stand. There are numerous unreported cases of young children including girls even below the age of 15 yrs who have surrendered to the security agencies. A good number too who have been arrested are in their early twenties their recruitment in the armed outfit dating back 6-8 yrs which means they were recruited at the age of 15/16 years. All these go to indicate that they could have been drawn towards the outfit more by co-ercion or by force less voluntarily. Even where the children have volunteered to join the outfit for whatever reasons it is expected of the non state parties in their wisdom to scrutinize that children have no ability to make informed decisions especially in such delicate matters as taking up arms and fighting for a cause. It should not be too late for the non state actors to address such issues or else the possibility of people in unison questioning the ideologies and tall claims of the revolutionary movement cannot be ruled out. From the account of Jimmy Briggs, a noted journalist who has done research in the issue of child soldiers for six years in his book “Innocents Lost” of the horrendous episodes of child soldiers across nations affected by armed conflict, genocide, and war like Columbia, Rwanda, Sri- Lanka, Northern Uganda, Afghanistan, etc it has been noted that the longer conflicts continue the more likely that children will be exploited as soldiers. The more adults are wounded, killed or captured the more youngsters become the inevitable recruiting pools and whenever children are exploited the whole society is jeopardized. Taking a cue from the observation and in the face of the conflict situation that Manipur is in, the need of the hour hence, is to direct our thought process towards the impact of conflict on young children and what we can do to save our society though immediate solution for the conflict may not be or is not within the mandate of the society.
Everybody agrees and opines that children are the future pillars of the nation but this will be rendered a mere rhetoric if we do not make an effort to safeguard and protect them and ensure a conducive atmosphere for their physical and mental development. Hence, in the face of the ascending trend of children being trafficked for exploitation, the state, society and all stakeholders cannot afford to remain as mute spectators. It is imperative to look at the whole issue of welfare of children from the right perspective and specifically work out ways and means to check the abhorrent crime. In trying to analyze the causes and consequences of Child trafficking, the social, economic and cultural factors as well as civil and political contexts of the places and communities need to be considered. All the stakeholders need to put heads together and analyze why and how the trend has set in, what could be the factors both “pull ‘and “push” factors which may have played a role. The pull factors in connection with the episode of trafficking of children to other parts of the country maybe a demand for cheap labour, drive to extort maximum benefit or profit by using children from this part of the country who could be isolated from families, who could face communication problem and hence not try to complain or run away. For the recent incident of trafficking children for being recruited as child soldiers the pull factor maybe a decline in the number of human resources in the armed outfit/s owing to death of the cadres either in combat or otherwise, arrests and surrenders, desertions etc.
The push factors for the recent spurt in the incidences of child trafficking is definitely the call of the Government, the law enforcement agencies, NGOs and the whole society. Though political will, effort of the Government in terms of provision of health and educational care, legal safeguards are definitely in place for the welfare of children, poverty in certain cases, economic disparity, ineffective mechanisms for dissemination of beneficiary schemes specially at the grassroot level, lack of awareness, sometimes seer apathy of the people towards the problem etc can be accounted as elements contributing to the ascending degree of child trafficking. There are also a whole range of issues which are slowly eating into the vitals of our society. The craze of our children for toy guns maybe counted as a manifestation of their minds getting corrupted and drawn towards the gun culture. There is an alarming need to orient their thoughts towards other constructive issues as it may enhance their vulnerability to be easily trafficked when accosted by unscrupulous elements with the promise of handing them real guns. This is where intervention by the community as a whole is needed. As a mark of protest against violence and gun culture and to drive home the point that gun kills , is antithetical to peace and has an impact on the psyche of children there has been news of burning down of toy guns at Keinou and Thoubal. Several NGOs are also focusing on this issue and such efforts which is so relevant in today’s scenario maybe lauded and further encouraged. The threat posed by substance abuse or drug abuse to our children and the menace itself facilitating child trafficking can hardly be lost sight of. Once the young children gets chained in the addiction their reasoning power whatsoever little is weakened and makes them susceptible to be easily diverted on wrong paths. Traffickers can easily lure them by promising them the substance they are craving for. Here again the government,the law enforcers, NGOs and community have a responsibility to check the engulfing menace which has also been accounted for placing Manipur in the HIV/AIDS map of the world.
A healthy and good environment with necessary dietary and educational care is required for the healthy upbringing of a child. Though most part of the task of a good child upbringing rest with the family of the child, not all children are blessed to be nurtured under the protective care of their parents, to have all their needs provided, materially, financially, emotionally. There are numerous unfortunate lot who face adverse situations in life at their tender age due to poverty, broken family, loss of parents, lack of sustainable livelihoods etc. Though all these factors do not count as causes of child trafficking, these may be counted as factors which exacerbate the vulnerability of these groups of children to be easily trafficked. Identification of such vulnerable groups and families followed by implementation of programs and measures for improving their economic status so that reasonable alternatives are available to them could be a strategy, long term though to check the trafficking crime. The outreach may also include enhancing access to affordable quality education, awareness programs on the need for community participation in tackling the issue etc.
Another aspect is the law enforcement part. Stricter legislations with emphasis on prosecution for the traffickers and recruiters is to be given due importance and effectively enforced. Successful prosecution of child traffickers is the surest way to send a message that child trafficking will not be tolerated at all. Traffickers carry out their clandestine activity by means of deception, co-ercion or force. They can be caught at the instant they try to coax the young children or at the time of movement. In this regard stricter border control is also an essential element. Grass root surveillance at the community level can also thwart attempts by unscrupulous elements. Institution of a hotline which is active 27×7 and where public can dial to report any suspected cases of child trafficking is another step which has been mooted to keep round the clock vigil.
Victim assistance is another aspect which forms an integral part of the solution to the menace. Identifying victims of trafficking and developing suitable programs to provide individualized and supportive physical and psychological rehabilitation to them will go a long way in curbing the problem. Consideration of cadres or over-ground workers of armed outfits who are at their tender age at the time of their arrest as victims rather than culprits and dealing with them within the purview of Juvenile Justice Act along with sheltering them in juvenile homes or child welfare committees for proper rehabilitation may contribute in bringing about a holistic solution. Story of Deepa, 17 yrs(name changed) of Koirengei, a cadre of an underground outfit who surrendered to a paramilitary unit and who is undergoing rehabilitation through a child welfare committee is a testimony of the effort made by security agencies in this direction which should be acknowledged and lauded too.
Maybe it is because we attach a special emotion and endearing connect with children for their innocence and naive nature about the worldly affairs that we find the news of children being trafficked for forced labour, forced begging or recruitment as child soldiers offending our collective conscience, principles of human dignity and violating basic human rights. The heart rending episodes have shocked all of us and every section of the society irrespective of their affiliations have voiced their disgust.
Number of children have been rescued earlier. Four of the boys have also been found/ rescued recently. Whole Manipuri society is relieved and is rejoicing the re-union of the children with their families. There are still more parents wailing at the loss of their children hoping against hope that their children would be rescued and would join them soon. The people of Manipur have moved on with life ,moved on with time, frustrated with happenings, helpless at their mouths being gagged, cursing at times their own fate at the sordid state of affairs but in this mind boggling issue of targeting and trafficking the young ones, robbing them of their childhood bliss, of their fun and innocence and luring them into a path of which they are not sure of, the people of Manipur will be resilient no more, will be gagged no more, will be indifferent no more but go all out against it, hammer and tongs for, if we do not try to put an end to this our next generation will definitely question us for their crumbled tomorrow.
Moral responsibility and accountability- these two words maybe missing in the dictionary of the perpetrators and recruiters but we definitely do have a moral responsibility and accountability to shape our own society and every unit of it in the best possible way. Answerable they may not be to us for their ill intent of trying to /using the young children but they ought to be at least to the mothers of those children who are spending sleepless nights, wailing and just looking forward to their children returning home. The slogan for the moment is that their tender hands are definitely not meant for rigorous work enslaved in hazardous environment or playing with real guns.
- Child Trafficking In Manipur- A Perspective (nezone.info)
- The Conscription of Children as Ultras in Manipur (nezone.info)
- Kashmir new paradise of children’s trafficking – #Kashmir (kashmirreport.wordpress.com)