BANGALORE: A panel on Saturday discussed ways to help runaway children and check child trafficking and abuse. Titled Child Wise, the discussion was held at the British Council office. Panelists Binu Varghese (coordinator for the Missing Child Bureau, Karnataka); Lavanya Devdas (child rights advocacy specialist); Catherine Raja (director of operations and CEO of Freedom Firm, which rescues trafficked girls and rehabilitates them) shared their experiences of working in the field of child rights.
Child Protection Awareness Week was observed at British Council offices across the country from September 29 to October 3.
The panel also discussed related issues like missing children, sex trafficking of minors and sexual abuse within the house.
Binu Varghese said, "Every day 25 to 30 children are found roaming unaccompanied at Majestic railway station. Parents these days are too scared to go to the police station and report about a missing child."
The reasons for this, he said, are multi-faceted. Most police officers wait at least up to a week before agreeing to file an FIR, because the moment an FIR is filed, the missing child becomes their responsibility. Another crucial reason is the stigma and discrimination that comes from an investigation, especially in the case of a missing girl child, even after the girl is found.
Varghese suggested that parents who don't want to approach police stations must visit the website www.missingchildsearch.net. A case reported on the website is sent to the commissioner's office, the DGP's office and the Missing Child Bureau's office.
Within 24 hours, the bureau begins operations.
"The first two days are very crucial when it comes to finding missing children. Any delay will only reduce the chances of finding the child safely," he says. He also urges the general public to look out for unaccompanied children on streets and report them as soon as possible.
Catherine Raja, who works extensively with trafficked girls at Freedom Firm, said the key to empowering children is education.
"However, there's a lot wrong with our current education system. More emphasis should be placed on understanding the core strengths of each child and working with those. Right now everyone is worried about making good grades. This brings down children's self-esteem," she added.
Catherine runs a design boutique within Freedom Firm, Ruhama, where along with other skills, rescued children are taught to make jewellery.
For the first three months, the girls work on a stipend, after which they are made permanent and can earn upto `9,000.
She also made the point that when it comes to sex trafficking, almost everything is criminalised, the person running the brothel, the pimp who sells the women, the brothel itself, but the person who buys sex is exempt from punishment.
"It's very important to remember that as long as people are willing to buy something, there will always be people who are willing to procure and sell," she added.