Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PatnaBeat
Shamshad Ali*, (name changed), now 19, trafficked from Bihar at the age of 10, was rescued by law enforcement agencies and Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) activists from a zari (embroidery) making unit in Delhi’s Khanpur area in 2011. He recollects that he was scared and thought that a new set of pimps had come to take him and other 84 children to another torture facility—where he would be again thrashed, and forced to work for 16 hours a day without food and water. After meeting his parents in a Delhi Bal Griha (Children’s Home) after a few days, he realised that he is actually in a safe home. Shamshad belongs to a very poor Muslim family with no agricultural landholding. His father works in a bangle factory and earns Rs 2000 per month for the entire family of six.
Months in virtual “captivity” had dealt a heavy blow to Shamshad’s morale as a human being, badly bruising his attitude and confidence in people, life and its various manifestations. “Extreme poverty led my family to send me to Delhi to live with my uncle, who, I later figured out, was a trafficker. He had promised my parents that I will be enrolled in a school and will be given some livelihood skills training.”
He still remembers two horrendous instances during his “captivity”, which send chills down his spine.
Staring off blankly at a distance, Shamshad says, “Once when I had sores on my face due to high fever, I dozed off after working continuously for 15 hours. I had not had anything to eat for two days. That was the day when the trafficker attempted to gouge my eyes out with a pair of big scissors.”
After pausing for a bit, he sips some water and says, “On another day, the trafficker locked me inside a room, played loud music to drown my screams, and beat me up brutally with a belt and a rod.”
Shamshad says that he turned to music to heal himself after he was rescued. He plays harmonium and synthesizer, and loves to sing songs. He even participates in the Ramlila acts.
He also practises classical music at the Bal Ashram, a facility for distressed children run by Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), where he was brought in 2011 after being rescued, and enrolled into the formal education system.
“I want to become a doctor and provide my services to the downtrodden people of my country. I am studying hard to get selected in a medical college after I complete my 12th standard,” he says.
The Way Out
Meanwhile, a year in the dark dungeons of the narrow by-lanes of Khanpur has matured him beyond his age. At the age of 19, he confidently talks about the contours of education policy; strongly pitches for raising the bar of free and compulsory education from 14 to 18 years under the Right to Education (RTE) Act. “If children of up to 18 years of age are brought under the ambit of the RTE Act, it will prevent trafficking of children to a great extent. Just like myself, most victims of child labour, trafficking, child marriage or other forms of exploitation and crimes are mostly school dropouts,” he says.
“There should be a special emphasis on education in source areas of trafficking,” said Shamshad, who hails from a village in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district. Hundreds of children from the region are trafficked to metro cities after dropping out of school, he informed NewsClick.
Even the Annual Education Statistics published by Ministry of Human Resource Development paints a similar picture. As per the official estimates, 6.2 crore children of school age (between 6 and 18 years) were out of school in 2015. The Gross Enrolment Ratio for grades VI to VIII was 90.7%, while for grades IX – X and XI – XII, it was only 79.3% and 51.3%, respectively. These numbers indicate that a significant proportion of enrolled students begin to drop out after grade V, and more so after grade VIII.
Similar patterns and trends of children dropping out after standard VIII have emerged from the raid and rescue data shared by BBA. It has rescued a total of 3,960 children from various forms of exploitation, including child labour and trafficking, between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2019. Of these, data regarding educational status of 424 is available, an analysis of which shows that 95 are those who were below 13 years of age, while 329 were in the 14 to 18 age group. Of the total, 233 were school dropouts while 80 had never gone to school. Thus, out of 424 children 313, which is 74% of the total, were out of school.
Shamshad pointed out that a chunk of children in his zari factory were above 15 years of age. The teenager said that strengthening the formal school education system and community participation in the form of SMC (School Management Committees) is the panacea which will check various problems in the education system.
Shamshad has also become a changemaker in his Bihar village, which he annually visits during summer vacation to meet his parents and sisters. During his stay, he takes up the role of a reformer in his society, meeting parents and children for sending their wards to school. He commands respect in his community back home. During one of his visits a few years back, he intervened and warned the primary school principal to not take Rs 100 from the poor students in lieu of issuing a transfer certificate—to which, he relented, claims Shamshad.