Where are the missing children from Chhattisgarh villages?

Desperately poor villages in Chhattisgarh have been seeing a rise in number of children going missing; NGOs believe agents are luring them to big cities and then trafficking them

Bhagwati Birhor's parents Bhagwati Birhor's parents 

The Birhors from Ruwaphul village in Chhattisgarh are still hoping to see their daughter Bhagwati walk through the door. The child had gone missing, at age 9, four years ago. A police case has been registered, but nothing has come of it. "We say a prayer for Bhagwati every day. She went out on an errand one day and never returned," says Vishram Birhor, the father, a daily wage labourer.

Bhagwati Birhor
Bhagwati Birhor 

"She was kidnapped, because she called us a few months later and even sent some money home. But, six months later her calls stopped, as did the money," he says. The family is so poor that they couldn’t even afford the bus fare to the police station 45 km away.

In Dagbhauna village close by, Umarsao Oraon and his wife have lost all hope of finding their daughter, Sanchita. She, too, went missing four years ago when she was 12. A police complaint was lodged after local NGOs convinced the parents. "We are tired of looking," says Sukh Mani, Sanchita’s mother, weeping.

Sanchita Oraon
Sanchita Oraon 

Like the Birhors (who have five other children), the Oraon family of seven, too, is impoverished. Both families make a meager Rs 3,000 a month as agricultural labourers. Interestingly, the villages are located in the Dharamjaygarh block of Raigarh district, which has seen a sharp rise in number of missing children in the last few years. The Ministry of Women and Child Development pegged the number of missing children in India at 1,35,484.

Child trafficking
Subash Gupta, animator for Paras Swayam Sevi Sanstha (PARAS), the CRY partner working in Chhattisgarh for the last two years, said Dharamjaygarh has emerged as a child-trafficking hub. "Children are trafficked by local agents to work in other states (Delhi and Mumbai) as child labour or as dancers to Goa. Often the families are so poor that they don’t have the time or money to look for them," he states.

Subhash Gupta, animator for Paras, during a meeting with the girls
Subhash Gupta, animator for Paras, during a meeting with the girls  

Arun Kumar coordinator for PARAS says it was only during their meetings with mahila mandals that the truth starting coming out. "Parents of missing children were fearful of lodging complaints against the local agents. They don’t know if they have been taken for the flesh trade or for domestic work or were being sexually exploited," Kumar said.

Asked if missing children even return home, Malakar said, "Yes, around 18 girls returned recently. They never talk about the nature of their work or their past. Even the parents are keen on getting them married off and the true story never comes out."

Dinesh Kakkoth, associate general manager, CRY–West, said, "The District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) has been formed at the district level but Block Child Protection Unit (BCPU) and Village Child Protection Committees (VCPC) have either not been formed or created only on paper, and hence, there is inadequate implementation of schemes addressing trafficking."

Police say
BN Meena, superintendent of Police, Raigarh district, while initially denying there was a missing children crises, admitted that there were instances of young girls going missing between 2008 and 2009 and the parents not registering complaints for five-six years. "In the case of Bhagwati, we had questioned a woman bangle seller from the village, who had approached her parents in 2008-2009 asking if they would let her take the child with her to the city. The parents had refused. The woman denied taking the child in 2012. As of now, only five cases remain unsolved," said Meena.

Easy targets
Dharmjaygarh is one of four blocks in Raigarh district. Most of the tribals here belong to the Oraon and Baiga or Primitive Tribes. The villages are in the middle of the forest. The degraded forest, sloping and infertile land has led to low agricultural output. This leaves the community, specifically children and women, in a very vulnerable position. The most affected are the Oraon community, as they have very little land holding, resulting in almost zero food security. This is what ‘agents’ take advantage of. They come scouting for youngsters, especially girls, and show them dreams of a better life. Parents see this as an opportunity to ensure food for their families and agree to send their daughters away, with not the slightest idea where they are being taken, said Malakar.

Numbers speak
According to the 2011 Census, 43% of the population in Chhattisgarh belongs to marginalised communities (SC/ST), who are easy targets of traffickers. There were 6,847 children reported missing in Chhattisgarh between 2013-2015. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows 1,908 cases of kidnapping in Chhattisgarh in 2015.

1,35,484 No. of children missing in India

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