The Centre and state governments together rescued and rehabilitated over 38,000 missing children from across the country in 2015. Out of this, over 28,000 were rescued under the Ministry of Home Affairs’ “Operation Smile” and “Operation Muskaan”. Around 28% (over 9,000) of the children have been reunited with their parents and the rest are in shelter homes. These children are provided with shelter, food, education and taught life skills and trade skills.
“Over 38,000 children were rescued due to the combined efforts of the Centre, states and independent workers and bodies. Another such campaign (Operation Smile 2) has begun from the start of this year. We want to get women and children off the streets and away from hazardous environments. It is the resolve of this government to abolish child exploitation,” Preeti Sudan, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, told The Sunday Guardian.
“The ministry constantly monitors the rehabilitation process of these children. Police personnel from each state are trained to extract information from such children tactfully. Troubled children are rescued and kept in special shelter homes where a full team of counsellors, teachers, doctors, etc., help them come out of the trauma they faced in the past. Also, to find out the actual magnitude of the problem, data with full details of the number of missing children is being maintained and shared at intra-state and inter-state levels. Information about Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) is prepared and shared among all rescue teams and stakeholders,” she said.
“Details of the children are uploaded on the ‘Missing Child’ portal of the Ministry by the respective state police. Rehabilitation measures are taken up in coordination with other departments like Department of Women and Child Developmetn, Police, Labour, etc., so that re-victimisation is eliminated. Efforts are also being taken to increase public awareness by way of national campaigns. We have also proposed setting up of fixed deposit accounts for such children so that they can make use of that money to start a life when they turn 18,” she added.
The government also takes the help of several NGOs to expedite the process of rehabilitation. These children are usually runaways or abandoned and many are victims of trafficking or bonded labour.
“The children we rescue are usually orphans, bonded labour or runaways living on streets, platforms, bus stops, under bridges and flyovers. Thousands of children are trafficked to cities. But some manage to escape. We try to save them as well. Most of these children are between 8 and 12 years of age. Quite often, we get children who were forced into prostitution or bonded labour. Some run away from homes due to ill-treatment by parents or teachers. Many are forced into begging, peddling or pick-pocketing,” Harsimran Bhalla, Delhi coordinator of Butterflies, told this newspaper.
The rescue and rehabilitation efforts are carried out by police forces with the help of social activists. “We have over 5,000 rescued children currently living in our shelters in Delhi and more around the country. It is a very delicate process. We work closely with police and government officials. The police help us rescue children from traffickers, abusive relatives, exploiters, brothels, begging rackets, etc. We keep them in our shelter homes where we give them a place to live till they are not united with their parents or old enough to sustain themselves. We educate them, teach them life skills and trade skills so that they can work to earn a living when they are old enough,” she added.
In the past, however, several missing children were traced to shelter homes and officials say that most shelter homes don’t make efforts to reunite the children to their parents.
“In the greed for more grants, they just let the children stay in their shelter homes. In many cases, despite giving details of their families, the people in authority in these shelter homes do not make any effort to even contact the parents. We also find that the number of rescued boys is much higher than girls. Girls are mostly forced into prostitution. This is a loophole in the system that needs to be addressed. The government needs to crack down on shelter homes as well. They should not use these children to make money. If found guilty, there should be stringent penalties for them,” said Ravinder Ojha, DCP Delhi Police, special police unit for women and children.