"I am 18. Sachchi!(truly)", swears a four feet ten inches tall boy in a voice which can easily pass off for a girl's, when quizzed by a CHILDLINE (CL) volunteer on April 23, at Lucknow station. He was clearly malnourished, but, even by those standards, he wasn't 18. He was trained to tell a lie, just like his other 36 undernourished train mates.
Panicky and perplexed, the majority of the 37 rescued minors showed fear for the gruesome threesome, who were ushering them to work as bonded laborers in Punjab , when the CHILDLINE India's volunteers and the Government Railway Police (GRP) rescued them from Amritsar-bound Amrapali Express, at the Charbagh railway station.
The children - aged between 8 to 16 years -were from Bihar and West Bengal, and five people were arrested under the Child Trafficking Act and the children were sent to the State Protection Home. The children confided to CL that they all hail from poor families and were being taken to Punjab to work as domestic helps.
Varsha Sharma, Coordinator, Lucknow CL said that a tip-off came from the Delhi office that some children from Bihar were being taken to Punjab .
What triggered off the action?
On April 22, 2010, CL unit of Kolkatta received an anonymous call that 30 minors were being trafficked from a remote village of Katihar District of Bihar to Delhi to work as construction laborers. The informant mentioned that four to five traffickers were accompanying the children. He was although unsure of the train which the trafficker boarded. The information which he gave left the team with two possible trains- either Mahananda Express or Amrapali Express.
It was this phone-call which triggered a chain-reaction of intervention in CL centres, panning from far East to up North. The mission was to search and rescuer the kids reported to be trafficked.
Upon receiving the information from their Eastern branch, Delhi Regional Resource Centre of CL began to trace the exact location of the train where the train is supposed to passing.
"When we came to know that Mahananda Express was about to reach Allahabad Railway station in an hour, we put our Allahbad branch on alert," informs Sumit Kumar, Program Coordinator, CL Delhi.
CL Allahabad's team studied the route of the train and found that the train stops at Nainni Station also which is 20 Kilometer far from Allahabad Station. The team divided into two groups, one of which boarded the train from Naini Station, to scan it thoroughly and was in constant touch with the other on phone. They couldn't find any suspect boarding the train, which left Amrapali Express, which reaches Lucknow at nine in the evening, as the last chance to save the kids.
CL Lucknow was prepared to trace the unidentified traffickers and children. "The Government Railway Police (GRP) and the Charbagh police station were informed following which the train was checked," Sharma recalls.
The team rescued 37 children and informed the GRP about the three men accompanying them as suspects. "On being questioned the children insisted that they were adults even though their appearance was contradictory. So they were bullying into telling the truth by bluffing a potential imprisonment. It was then; a kid informed that before leaving Bihar , they were extensively tutored to claim that they were 18 years old if questioned by anyone while on their way to the work-place. The fear was so profound that even the 11-year-old ones among the group continued to insist that their age was 18," elaborates Kumar.
Almost all of them were natives of Katihar in Bihar and knew each other for years. However, they refused to provide any detail about the other, saying that they were meeting the rest for the first time.
The Superintendent of Police, GRP ( Lucknow ) G K Goswami said, "We have booked these (5) people for child trafficking and are interrogating them. Since one of the accused is from West Bengal, there can be a gang from West Bengal and Bihar involved."
Although, the team tried to do a complete surveillance of the train but it had a short stoppage at the station. So the Lucknow 's CL team forwarded a call to Kanpur CL to do a further check up in the train who found eight children and two traffickers in one of the coach.
They petrified and panicked kids consoled and fed by CL team of Lucknow and Kanpur. After winning their trust and establishing a rapport with them the teams took them for their medical checkup. From there they were taken the shelter home. Today, they are with their parents. Except for one child, who is still in the shelter home as he not able to provide the address. The accused are behind the bars.