Thousands of people gathered in southern India on Monday to kick off what is expected to be the world’s largest march against the trafficking and sexual abuse of children as reports of such crimes continue to rise in the country.
Organized by Nobel Laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, over 10 million people from across India are due to take part in the month-long “Bharat Yatra” – or India March – which will end in the capital New Delhi on Oct. 16.
Flagging off the march from Kanyakumari, a coastal city on the southern-most tip of India in the state of Tamil Nadu, Satyarthi told crowds of school children, officials and activists it was time to shatter the silence around such crimes.
“The sun rises every morning. But today this morning is different and this sun is different. Today this sun rises to dispel the darkness of fear, hopelessness and shame faced by our children. Today we march to end this,” Satyarthi said.
“India is known for a country where children are being raped, where children are being sold. They are not safe in their schools, they are not safe even in their homes. If one child is in danger, then it means that the whole of India is danger.”
Children in India face a barrage of threats ranging from human trafficking, sexual violence and early marriage to a lack of access to quality education and healthcare, say activists.
More than 9,000 children were reported to have been trafficked in 2016, a 27 percent rise from the previous year, according to government data.
Most are from poor rural families who are lured to cities by traffickers who promise good jobs, but then sell them into slavery as domestic workers, to work in small manufacturing units, farming or pushed into sexual slavery in brothels.
In many cases, they are not paid or are held in debt bondage. Some are found, but many remain missing.
Figures from the National Crime Records Bureau also show that almost 15,000 children were victims of sexual violence such as rape, molestation and exploitation for pornography in 2015 – up 67 percent from the previous year.
But these figures are just the tip of the iceberg in socially conservative India, say activists, where fear of being blamed, shamed or stigmatized means victims and their families often keep quiet and do not report the abuses they face.
Breaking the Silence
Satyarthi, whose charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) has rescued 80,000 enslaved children, said the march was part of a three-year campaign to spread public awareness and push for stronger policies on child protection.
The march participants will travel around 11,000 km (7,000) miles) and cover 22 of India’s 29 states. They will stop in towns and villages, visit schools and colleges and hold events with local officials, police, religious and community leaders.
A schoolboy holds a sign calling for end of child trafficking and sex abuse at an event to kick off what is expected to be the world’s largest march against such crimes in Kanyakumari in India’s Tamil Nadu state, Sept 11, 2017.
Monday’s kick-off saw thousands of children from remote areas across the country traveling to Kanyakumari to participate in the event. They chanted slogans and waved banners calling for an end of child slavery and child sexual abuse.
“I am here today as I want to help protect other children like me,” said Ruby Kumari, 14, a pony-tailed schoolgirl from the district of Koderma in India’s eastern Jharkhand state.
“We want to tell people that we are the future of this country and we want a safe environment for all children. They should be able to go to good schools and not sent to work.”
The event also saw the participation of parents and their children who are survivors of sexual abuse and child labor.
Thirty-five-year-old Moti, whose two teen daughters were raped by a family friend in the northern state of Punjab for years before the crime was discovered, said he hoped the march would help parents understand the dangers faced by children.
“I had no idea that this was happening to my daughters. I trusted this man and he did this to my daughters,” said Moti, as he sat among the crowds, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with #MakeIndiaSafe printed on the back.
“If there had been marches like this before, perhaps I would have known better and I could have saved them. Now I am here to take part in his march so that it doesn’t happen to other children and parents won’t have to go through what I did.”
News Video:VOA NEWS
An Indian charity is using big data to pinpoint human trafficking hot spots in a bid to prevent vulnerable women and girls vanishing from high-risk villages into the sex trade.
My Choices Foundation uses specially designed technology to identify those villages that are most at risk of modern slavery, then launches local campaigns to sound the alarm.
“The general Indian public is still largely unaware that trafficking exists, and most parents have no idea that their children are actually being sold into slavery,” said Elca Grobler, the founder of My Choices Foundation.
“That’s why grass-roots awareness and education at the village level is so important to ending the human traffic trade,” Grobler said in a statement released late Tuesday.
The analytics tool — developed by Australian firm Quantium — uses a range of factors to identify the most dangerous villages.
It draws on India’s census, education and health data and factors such as drought risk, poverty levels, education and job opportunities to identify vulnerable areas.
There are an estimated 46 million people enslaved worldwide, with more than 18 million living in India, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index. The Index was compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, a global organization seeking to end modern slavery.
Many are villagers lured by traffickers with the promise of a good job and an advance payment, only to find themselves or their children forced to work in fields or brick kilns, enslaved in brothels and sold into sexual slavery.
Almost 20,000 women and children were victims of human trafficking in India in 2016, a rise of nearly 25 percent from the previous year, according to government data.
While India has strengthened its anti-trafficking policy in recent years, activists say a lack of public awareness remains one of the biggest impediments.
In 2014, My Choices Foundation launched “Operation Red Alert,” offering educational programs to inform parents, teachers, village leaders and children about traffickers.
But with more than 600,000 villages across India and limited resources, the charity teamed up with Quantium to build the new data tool and use methods old and new to fight the criminals.
“We are helping to banish human trafficking, one village at a time, through a combination of highly sophisticated technology and grass-roots … education,” said Grobler.
Text Courtesy: VOA NEWS
“A man goes outside house as per his will but wife goes outside after taking permission. A man is spends money as he chooses but wife spends money as per his approval. A man is considered to be the master of the house but not wife because she cooks, washes clothes, keeps the house clean and makes all efforts to make life compfortable for her husband and children. This is the mindset which must change. The children also see the behaviour of their parents and follow the same mindset where a girl child is treated as a liability and a boy is considered as a future asset”–Chief Justice of India J.S Khehar speaking at a seminar on gender justice on the occassion of International Women’s Day.