A MiD DAY sting blows the lid off Bangalore's dawn market for children. The shameful racket operates every morning in the heart of India's showcase city, and near police stations
Children are sold every morning in Bangalore, and MiD DAY 'bought' four for just Rs 3,000 on Saturday.
DEAL DONE: Tout Ravi collects Rs 3,000 from a reporter after selling him four boys, whom he herded into the reporters' car (far left)
After we came to know of a well-organised racket near the city railway station, we posed as restaurant owners looking for child labourers, and contacted four touts on Friday, June 4.
They readily agreed to find us child labourers, but said they were "out of stock" that day. ÃÂ They promised a deal if we went early the next morning. A tout who called himself Ravi said, "Business is not so easy these days... we have to contend with competition and the activists. We can manage the police, but the media are dangerous."
We met him at the railway station. Earlier, two others we met had discussed the sale of children right in front of the Upparpet police station.
A tout on Kempe Gowda Road asked about our requirements openly. A constable heard us but just ignored us. The next day, Ravi was waiting for us near the gate of the railway station. He came running to us and said "Stocks available." He seemed anxious that we would contact other touts. He told us to wait in the car park. Within minutes, he came to us with four boys: Aruna (12), Varuna (11), Dilip (looks 16), and Nanda (looks 17).
We had little to discuss. Ravi demanded Rs 1,200 a child, while we bargained for Rs 3,000 for all four.
We handed him Rs 3,000. Without a word, he counted the money and vanished into the crowd, leaving the children with us. He didn't care who we were or where we were taking them.
We took the children to the MiD DAY office, and handed them over to the safe custody of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of the Karnataka government's women and child welfare department.
P N Basavaraju, CWC member, responded quickly. He came to our office to take the children. We escorted the children to Balamandira, a government home where orphan and runaway children are kept.
The CWC released two of the children, Dilip and Nanda, saying they had crossed 18, but retained the other two in Balamandira.ÃÂ
"We will trace their parents," said Vasudeva Sharma, CWC chairman, referring to Dilip and Nanda. "We will counsel their parents not to let their children fall into such a trap."
The four children came to Bangalore from Mysore by a night train. It was 4 am when they landed at Bangalore City railway station, and the touts met them at 6 am just outside the station.
Dilip and Nanda were working at restaurants in Mysore, while Aruna and Varuna are school dropouts.
They said they came to Bangalore because they could earn more. They didn't know how to look for jobs and fell prey to the touts.
We traced Nanda's mother Puttalakshmi, who lives in Mysore.
She said, "I don't know where Nanda has gone. All he told me was that he was going to Bangalore in search of a job."ÃÂ
Lingaraju, Dilip's uncle, said, "We don't know where Dilip is. He must be working in some hotel in Mysore."
For begging too
Child trafficking is rampant in Bangalore, which prides itself asÃÂ India's IT and BT capital.
Buyers mostly use children for labour, but some use them for sexual abuse or begging, a source told MiD DAY.
"If the kids are small, the beggar mafia maims them and sends them out for begging," he said. He did not rule out the chances of some children being exploited for organ transplantation.
The police don't know a thing MiD DAY asked the police whether they knew about child trafficking right under their nose.
"It has not come to our notice," said N K Solabeswarappa, assistant commissioner of police, Upparpet police station. The area where we negotiated the sale comes under his jurisdiction.
He was patrolling Kempe Gowda Road when we called.
"I don't see anything like that happening now," he said. The railway station and the bus stand fall under Cottonpet police station.
When we told J D Durgiah, assistant commissioner of police at that station, about our sting, he said, "It is a very serious case. Please give us the details and we will act."
Minister thinks problem isn't so bad B N Bachche Gowda, labour minister, said, "We conduct a monthly drive to check hotels and shops employing child labourers. The problem has come down."
Vasudeva Adiga, president, Bangalore Hoteliers Association, said, "I can say no hotel in the city employs children. This is just propaganda by NGOs like Bosco Mane." The downturn in the garment industry was helping hotels find women workers, he explained.
MiD DAY photographer Satish Badiger sat precariously on a ledge and used a telescopic lens to shoot pictures over two days, and bring you the first-ever evidence of this shocking racket.