KOCHI: Ankita, a 13-year-old, the eldest child of a six-member family from Haryana is busy filling cans with water from a public tap around 200 metres away from the temporary shack they call home. At the outset, everything seems normal. However, when the Childline director Fr Jenson Varyath starts asking questions, the entire family goes on a defensive. On being probed whether she goes to school, Ankita answers in the affirmative.
But she flounders when asked the name of her school, says she forgot. On pressing for more information, the father of the girl leaps in and directs Ankita to show her school identity card. According to the father, both Ankita and her younger sister attend school regularly. But the Childline officials have a different tale to tell.
“The area they are staying is a hub for truck drivers. Can you say for sure that these girls and their five-year-old brother are safe from exploitation?” asked Fr Jenson. According to him, the entire gambit of going to school is a sham. “We have enquired at the school and have found that though the girls are registered as students they rarely attend classes,” he said.
According to him, the problem with the migrant children is that they have no insulation from the illegal activities happening around them. “In the case of Ankita, a clear case of child prostitution is taking place with the complete knowledge of the parents,” he said. However, the Childline is unable to take action due to the lack of proper evidence.
Bitty Joseph, chairperson, Child Welfare Committee, said a lot of children come with their parents from states like Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Assam to Kochi.“Child labour is a common thing among these groups. The modus operandi of the elders is to position children at busy junctions and thoroughfares in the garb of selling trinkets. People are persuaded to buy things being sold by naive kids,” she said. “The situation is grim in places like Perumbavoor, where the concentration of migrant labourers is high,” said Bitty.
“Most migrant families live in one-room rentals and many times share rooms with others from their native places. However, things become complicated if they have children. These kids are left unsupervised and unprotected in the rooms while the parents go to work. Such children fall prey to paedophiles,” she said.