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18 Jan 2021, Edition - 2015, Monday

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Coimbatore

Sexual abuse, trafficking and prostitution prime reasons for missing children in Coimbatore

U Bharath

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Over 66 children, including 52 girls and 14 boys, have gone missing in Coimbatore city in the January – October 2016 period alone. Only 11 girls and 43 boys have been traced, while the other 12 children are still missing and categorised as `Under Investigation’ according to the Crime Records Bureau (CRB) of the Coimbatore City Police Commissionerate.

As many as 70 children, including 55 girls and 15 boys, have been reported missing in 2015 and among them 63 children, including 51 girls and 12 boys, have been rescued while seven are yet to be traced.

The figures for 2016 reflect that more children have gone missing just until October this year than in the whole of 2015.

If this is not alarming enough, according to the National Tracking System for Missing and Vulnerable Children (NTM&VC), at least four to five children go missing every day in Tamil Nadu and the national figures for Wednesday (November 24) show 62 children went missing; of these 59 have been traced (source: NTM&VC website).

According to Dr D Rajan, former Chairman of the Child Welfare Committee, which is the monitoring body functioning under the Tamil Nadu State Social Defence department, runaways, children trafficked for begging and prostitution, sexually abused children in non-functional families form the bulk of missing children, apart from children running away from homes due to lack of love, exam failure and for adventure.

Since the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2000 came into force, the legal safety guidelines for trafficked children for begging and prostitution have been strengthened, he said. Child traffickers can be fined Rs. 25,000 or face a jail sentence of three years.

Often children who were subjected to domestic abuse by a stepmother or drunkard father, or those who receive corporal punishment in schools and hostels run away to escape from abuse and torture. Children are also trafficked for begging, prostitution and bonded labour, and some of them escape from the situation and roam about homeless until they are found by child helpline volunteers and task force.

“Since its introduction, the child helpline — 1098 has helped rescue and rehabilitate many missing children; in a day about 40 phone calls are received in the city. Volunteers of the child helpline and a task force comprising vendors and shopkeepers call up the helpline when they find lonely children wandering on the streets or near transit points such as train and bus stations,” said I Angeline, Childline counsellor, who has over 20 years of experience in counselling.

Task force members and volunteers keep vigil in Coimbatore Junction, and Gandhipuram and Singanallur bus stands and other crowded marketplaces for missing children. A task force comprising flower vendors and teashop owners have been trained to spot a missing child. Childline volunteers get food for them and talk to them before they are produced before the Child Welfare Committee, which decides about their shelter needs.

“Children running away from home due to sexual abuse by close kin has increased these days,” says Angeline. “Fearing censure and punishment from parents and teachers, some students take flight after failing in exams so we see a spurt in runaway children during quarterly and half-yearly exam holidays. These children are counselled and reunited with their families,” said Dr Rajan.

Lack of parental love, and physical and mental abuse by stepmothers or drunken fathers are some other reasons for children fleeing their homes. Child marriages have also become a bane in poor families and some children run away from their homes to avoid a premature wedding. However, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act comes as a boon for these sections.

Child helpline volunteers visit city restaurants with police and if children below 14 are found employed, we take photos of them and later rescue them with the help of police, said Angeline.

“One time we rescued a group of 60 Nepalese children sheltered in an illegal home at Sulur with the help of police and sent them back to Nepal. Some of the runaway children are forced into prostitution; they are rescued and traffickers punished by slapping cases against them. If any of the children are found to be over the age of 18, they are kept under observation in Borstal School in Pollachi,” said Dr Rajan.

While children in conflict with law commit offences and flee the place, they are rescued, and kept in homes and counselled. The Juvenile Justice Act clauses ensure that juveniles do not attract punishment for their mistakes, but after the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case in Delhi, children over 17 are treated as adults if they commit grave crimes such as rape and murder.

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