Hyderabad: Everyday children go missing, caught in a web of something that is bigger than them. They may never return home to their parents, to their little beds and favourite toys. Their stories remain untold and their journeys remain a mystery. Sometimes, they are sold not knowing why or to whom. Their lives turn upside down in a second, never to be the same again.
Sixteen-year-old Aahana (name changed) from Haveli, Ghanpur Mandal studies in an Anganwadi centre in Medak. Aahana is the second daughter of her parents who are peasants and labourers. While the family owns one acre of land, their survival depends on the rains as the land is barren and only cultivable in the rainy season. In just three months, the family has to prepare for a year’s worth of yield. The family was approached by a group of people from Rajasthan. A middle man from the nearby Thanda, introduced the family and discussion about Aahana’s future began. The men stayed with the family and proposed marriage for Aahana. The groom was a 50-year-old man who was willing to pay a sum of Rs 50,000. The deal was finalised as the family needed the money to gain respite from a hard and not so prosperous year of yield.
Aahana’s destiny was to be sold in marriage to a man who was three decades older than her. Fearing for her life, Aahana took a brave step in notifying her teacher at the Anganwadi centre, who further notified the authorities about Aahana’s plight. Operation Muskan was able to rescue Aahana and place her in a school saving her from being sold.
Had Aahana’s marriage taken place, everything she knew as a child was going to be shattered. From drawing lines to playing a game of hopscotch, Aahana would be drawing the lines of rangoli on the front porch of her alienated home. Her hobbies would be replaced by mundane housekeeping chores, her innocence would be stolen and small joys of being cared for would be replaced with the great responsibility of running a household. Her story is one among the millions of stories of young girls who carry the pain and despair of being sold into marriage.
Operation Muskaan in the month of July has rescued 119 boys and girls who were reported missing in the district of Medak. The initiative was taken up by the government in 2016, aiming to trace missing children and also curbing the child trafficking menace. While there are numerous statistics that show how many children were rescued and rehabilitated, their stories remain untold. These are some true stories of child victims who have been rescued by Operation Muskaan.
Hitesh (name changed), a young fourteen-year-old boy was forced into carrying the load of his family’s sufferings. Everyday Hitesh makes his way to the nearby chicken shop having dropped out from school. While he really wants to learn, the burden of the next meal rests on his small shoulders. He has no choice but to work in a shop, bringing a small sum of money to his family. Luckily, he was spotted by the Operation Muskaan team and rescued. Young Hitesh now has a second chance in life, a better one too, where he has been enrolled in school at Yeldurthy. He can now follow his heart’s desire to study and maybe one day work and earn enough to single-handedly support his family.
Meanwhile, Achyuta Rao, Balala Hakkula Sangam, a child activist said, “Children in both the Telugu speaking states are falling prey to child labour to support their families. Unfortunately, these children are given opportunities to do so, because while there are child regulation laws, there has been neither crackdown on contractors nor any retail small businesses that employ young children. For the welfare of these children who are vulnerable enough to get involved in trafficking or prostitution and child labour, there should be some crackdown on the employers to eradicate this evil.”
Yet another story just like Hitesh (name changed) is that of fourteen-year-old Ashwin. He is often seen reluctantly walking to Eshwar footwear shop, his head hanging. Two years back, he lost his father and his family now depends on him and his mother to earn. His mother works as a labourer, working long hours to support the family. But, for the family to have a little more to pay for education, Ashwin will have to work, losing his childhood. While his friends play cricket on the streets, Ashwin helps others try out footwear for a sum of Rs 6,000 a month. Flying kites and GilliDanda are a distant memory, for now his life revolves around the art of selling for a living. His childhood was stolen, snatched away for no fault of his and no warning, until the Muskaan team rescued him and placed him in a Govt Junior College for Boys in Medak.
These stories come from the district of Medak now ranked as the third highest district in rescuing maximum number of children under Operation Muskaan following after Adilabad and Mahbubnagar. When asked where the operation at Medak sees itself in the coming years, the question was answered by Medak’s Superintendent of Police, Chandana Deepthi who says, “We are moving ahead in follow-ups of each specific case to prevent a relapse of the phenomenon. Today, we sent our teams to attend a face recognition technology training in Hyderabad. As an organisation that prevents and arrests crime, we look towards creating a safer society for the vulnerable with constant monitoring to take things to a logical end.”
While officials spend their days trying to save lives, putting children first in every decision they make, children continue to go missing or are being forced into begging rackets, child labour or become victims of sexual abuse. Every hour, a child finds himself/herself standing in some unknown location, all alone, a growing lump of fear in their throats and tears of abandonment streaming down their faces.
While words cannot truly depict the pain of those little broken hearts, actions can save lives which can be done by calling the CHILD HELPLINE: 1098 to report sightings of vulnerable children. In addition, there is a plea that the government works to crackdown on the source of employment of children to ensure that children remain in their homes and continue their education unhindered....