Marching for India's trafficked children

A child breaking tiles outside a construction site in Mumbai in 2015. Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi and his team raid mills, mines and factories to rescue children from bonded labour.
A child breaking tiles outside a construction site in Mumbai in 2015. Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi and his team raid mills, mines and factories to rescue children from bonded labour.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI • Bruised and battered from previous campaigns against child labour, India's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mr Kailash Satyarthi, hopes one million people will join his latest drive starting today - against the sexual abuse and trafficking of children.

"These are not ordinary crimes and they cannot be solved through the business-as-usual approach," Mr Satyarthi said. "Two children are sexually abused every hour. One child goes missing every eight minutes in India and they are not disappearing in thin air. These children are trafficked... sold and bought like animals."

More than 9,000 children were trafficked in India last year, up nearly 25 per cent from the previous year, according to the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

About 14,000 children were victims of rape and sexual harassment in 2015, data from the National Crime Records Bureau showed.

But those figures may only be the tip of the iceberg, with experts saying that the government underestimates the numbers in a country where a shroud of silence surrounds such crimes.

Mr Satyarthi's "India March" will kick off from the southernmost tip of Kanyakumari and finish in New Delhi on Oct 16 after crossing all 29 states and seven union territories.

  • GRIM STATISTICS

  • 2

    Number of children who are sexually abused every hour.

  • 1

    Child goes missing every eight minutes.

  • >9,000

    Number of children trafficked in 2016, up nearly 25 per cent from 2015.

  • 14,000

    Children who were victims of rape and sexual harassment in 2015.

Traffickers lure children, mostly from remote villages, with false promises of jobs before selling them off to brothels, factories or gangs which force them into begging.

The soft-spoken 63-year-old has been at the forefront of the drive against child labour in India, where over 10 million children are engaged in work, according to Unicef.

He blames India's "failed" law enforcement, weak prosecution and low conviction rates for their plight, and founded the Movement to Save Childhood.

His teams often stage dangerous dawn raids on mills, dank mines and factories which employ children. He says his movement has liberated 86,000 children from bonded labour across India.

He jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai in 2014. But his efforts have come at a price. He has been beaten up and faced death threats. Two colleagues were murdered.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'Marching for India's trafficked children'. Print Edition | Subscribe