During natural calamities such as the horrific floods and devastation in Uttarakhand, ensuring safety and protection to children, especially young girls, is among the government’s priorities. More so, because there is a danger of girls being trafficked when the administration is caught up in rescue and relief operations. Child protection groups are worried about unaccompanied children in Uttarakhand. “We have sent an advisory to the state government to take necessary action, keeping in mind the experiences from recent natural disasters where children are most vulnerable and the easiest targets of trafficking.
But the Uttarakhand government has informed us it is busy with the rescue of survivors and child protection issues will be dealt with after these relief operations,” said Kushal Singh, chief of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the nodal agency for child rights in India. With access being cut off to the most adversely impacted areas, child rights groups warn that if ground and security forces are not alerted about looking out for unaccompanied children, especially young teenage girls, there could be a repeat of the mammoth scale of child trafficking witnessed in the aftermath of the Tsunami (2004), Kosi floods (2008), and cyclone Aila in Sundarbans (2009). “Rescuing survivors is topmost priority but alongside, security forces have to be alert to the possibilities of child trafficking. Missing children and unaccompanied girls have to be identified, otherwise it will be too late once they fall prey to child traffickers,” says child rights activist Rajmangal Prasad of Pratidhi. According to him, disaster zones are the thriving grounds for child traffickers. Nishit Kumar from Childline, a child rights organisation which has a regional office at Dehradun and is in the process of formulating its strategy targeted at children affected by the floods, says: “There are no figures at present, but obviously children in large numbers have been victims – pilgrim towns by and large are supported by unorganised economy of guest houses, dhabas, child porters – all which thrive on child labour. That would account for thousands of children, at least.” That apart, there would be children as tourists who have lost their families in the tragedy. Kumar says most reports are about missing children. “Thousands of children and women are stuck in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand and need immediate medical attention and food before the weather deteriorates…” says NGO ‘Save the Children’ in a release. “We know children are already dying because they can’t reach medical help.”