NEW DELHI: Every morning 19-year-old Mohammad Chotu cycles through villages in Bihar patrolling areas affected by human trafficking, sometimes stopping to aware people of the social evil to which he fell prey to and suffered abuse as a child labourer.
Chotu, was trafficked to Delhi in 2009 when he was eight years old and was made to work as a child labourer at a factory here.
There, he said, he was subjected to immense emotional, verbal and physical abuse till he was rescued in 2014.
"I have to make sure that no one goes through what I went through when I was made to work as a child labourer at a factory in Delhi at the age of eight in 2009," said Chotu.
Chotu is not alone.
He and 50 other trafficking survivors in various districts of Bihar are making sure children in villages are safe, even as experts fear there could be an "exponential" rise in child trafficking post the COVID-19 pandemic as several families lost their livelihood after the disease's outbreak.
Part of the Mukti Caravan campaign started by child rights NGO Kailash Satyarthi Foundation, Chotu and the others claim that they have saved dozens of children from getting trafficked.
"We are covering five districts, 500 villages in the first phase of the campaign. The campaign is going to cover 10 districts and 1,000 villages. The districts we are covering in the first phase include Sitamarhi, East Champaran, Samastipur, Katihar and Gaya," spokesperson for the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation Rakesh Senger said.
This year with the outbreak of the coronavirus, activists are worried that an exponential increase in human trafficking cases will take place in the coming times, he said.
"We anticipate that trafficking is going to be one of the biggest threat post the pandemic for the most vulnerable. The children of families who have lost their means of livelihood and are facing hunger and starvation, they are extremely susceptible to all forms of exploitation, including trafficking," Senger said.
He said Mukti Caravan is an intensive door-to-door bicycle campaign.
"Cycles are the preferred mode because it is not only a convenient way to undertake an 'operation' of this magnitude but also satisfies the need to maintain social distancing norms," Senger said.
The campaign "allows the survivor activists to connect with the community whose members are among some of the worst affected and economically marginalised", he said.
Elaborating further, Chotu said, in many cases they come to know about traffickers by pretending that they were looking for jobs.
"If we introduce ourselves as activists, we are not told about the children who are about to get trafficked. So in many cases we have to pretend to be looking for jobs and then find the trains and the buses on which the children will be get trafficked. We then tip-off the police," he said "Till now my team has saved 35 children from getting trafficked in the past one month," he said, while the foundation claimed that around 72 children have been saved in total from getting trafficked and 24 traffickers have been arrested throughout the 10 districts where the campaign is going on.
Senger said that the foundation strongly recommends through its report that a wide safety net must be spread in source areas of trafficking to protect children from being trafficked.
"Schools, communities, and the local administration must work together to control trafficking and bonded labour in villages," he said.
Senger also suggested that intensive campaigns should be launched to educate communities about the threat and modus operandi of trafficking agents, especially in the source areas such as Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam.