Ranging from 18 years old to as young as six years old, the children, mostly from Bihar, had been sold off by their poor parents and were to be forced into labour at zari and leather purse factories in the city and suburbs
83 BOYS were rescued from being forced into working as labourers in factories dotting the city and its suburbs. The massive rescue operation yesterday was realised at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) railway station, after an NGO received a tip-off about them being brought to the city from Bihar.
The children will be sent to the Dongri children’s home, and after verification, to their homes in villages. Pic/Shadab Khan
The Raxaul-LTT Express was scheduled to arrive at LTT at 6 am, but was delayed by four hours. About 20 workers from the NGO Pratham, along with Kurla Government Railway Police (GRP) lay in wait. When the train finally chugged into platform number 3, all hell broke loose.
Children had been brought to the city in huge numbers, and as the trafficking agents realised there was heavy police presence, they scurried to find an escape route. Many agents managed to escape with children, but some also abandoned the children. In all, police rescued 83 boys and arrested 38 trafficking agents from the spot.
Most of the children are from villages in Raxaul, Motihari in Bihar, bordering Nepal. Six rescued children are from the neighbouring country. All of them had been sold off by their parents and were going to be sent to zari and leather purse factories in Bhiwandi, Kurla, Madanpura, Byculla, etc. The kids are anywhere between six and 18 years old.
14-year-old Salim (name changed) told mid-day, “My family is huge; we are seven brothers and sisters. My family is extremely poor and cannot afford to raise me. They sent me and a few other children here with a man.”
The agent had instructed Salim that should the police question him, he was to tell them that the agent was his uncle. Salim was on his way to becoming a zari worker in Madanpura, but his agent fled when police caught Salim.
Another 11-year-old had been rescued in the past and ended up coming to the city for the second time. “My family is very poor and, therefore, they had sent me to work in Mumbai at Dagad chawl near Mahalaxmi.
I used to get up at 6 in the morning. We would start work at 9 am and continue till 1 in the night. They would give us rice and dal, which we would have to cook by ourselves.
I earned Rs 200 per week; I spent some amount on myself and sent the rest to my parents in the village through an agent. I don’t know how much money must have reached them till now,” the boy recounted. Nine-year-old Nitin’s (name changed) parents had sold him off to a trafficking agent for a mere Rs 4,000.
The agent told the police that Nitin has several brothers and sisters, and their dire financial situation forced them to sell their son. Nitin was to be sent to a leather purse factory in Dharavi. A 14-year-old child cried inconsolably at the station.
He had been sent by his parents on the pretext of a tour of Mumbai, but the agent told the police that he had been sold off for Rs 5,000. Upon knowing the truth, the boy wept with despair. The rescued children will now be sent to the Dongri Children’s Home, where they will have to undergo a lengthy verification process.
Senior Police Inspector Vijay Dhopavkar, of Kurla GRP, said, “The accused agents will be arrested and charged under relevant sections. The kids will be sent to the Dongri remand home, and after verification, to their village. The process will take over a month.”
The rescue was possible due to a tip-off received by Pratham, which already had a team working in Raxaul. In fact, ten children had been rescued from being put on the same train at Raxaul. Even then, some agents and their children alighted at Kalyan, since it is closer to Bhiwandi.
NGO worker Sharmishta Khandagale said, “These kids are forced into human trafficking and are not paid. They are given little food to eat; they work at a stretch for 16 hours; they don’t get tired and their small hands prove to be very useful for Zari work and making leather purses. They are even harassed at these factories.”
Khandagale further added, “The families these children come from are huge and extremely poor. By selling off these children, the parents earn money, and the child will also earn here. Moreover he gets to eat and a place to stay, unlike in his own village.” Khandagale believed that had more police been deployed, more children could’ve been rescued and more agents arrested.