24 kids ‘disappear’ everyday in Madhya Pradesh alone. Between 2003 and 2011, the total figure was as high as 75,521, with the chart peaking in 2010 (the figure for 2011 was calculated only up until October, so it is safe to say that trafficking seems to be on the rise in the state). Of the ‘disappeared’ kids, 12,636 were never found. Within this ‘never found’ category, the majority — 8,108 — is girls.
The interesting thing is that many of these disappearances occur in tribal areas. Tribal blocks in Madhya Pradesh are the only regions where the sex ratio is positive; that means that there are more than 1,000 females per 1,000 live male births. Now, there are reports that some of the girls who were tracked down are being sold off in neighbouring districts for anywhere between Rs35,000 and 60,000.
Madhya Pradesh isn’t the only problem state, of course. The National Human Rights Commission believes that 45,000 kids disappear every year in India. And yet, the scale and horror of the situation comes home to us only when the children come home to tell their stories.
One of the girls — named in the report only as ‘Savita’ — did return. Five years after she went to Delhi and was put to domestic work. She was sold, and then sold again. Next thing she knew she was in Iran where she was enslaved in a single room. Next thing she knew, she was pregnant. When she managed to escape with the help of a kindly neighbour, she reached Kolkata, child in tow. She reached Delhi, and begged on the streets to feed the child, then took a train back to Jabalpur, hitched a ride on a tractor and then walked another 50km.
Despite her trauma, Savita did return to her family. But over the last five years, 5,499 girls have gone missing from eight ‘tribal’ districts in MP, of which 1,501 girls cannot be traced. There must be hundreds of others whose parents couldn’t even file police complaints.
The reasons for a spurt in trafficking are complex — female foeticide, dowry, misogyny, food insecurity. But children usually leave home only when poverty is extreme, and no work can be found locally.
A group of teenaged children are offered jobs by ‘agents’. The kids rarely have cell phones, or addresses of potential employers. When they disappear, parents don’t know where to look. They also allege that the police sometimes don’t take complaints seriously.
On occasion, parents have gone with names and numbers of the local ‘agent’, but the police have not made arrests.