HC asks Bengal govt to protect children from being trafficked in COVID time

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HC asks Bengal govt to protect children from being trafficked in COVID time
Kolkata, Jun 10 () Apprehending that the miseries brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak and cyclone Amphan among the poor people of West Bengal may lead to a spurt in child trafficking and abuse, the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to take all steps to protect children.

A division bench comprising Justices Soumen Sen and Harish Tandon observed that a report on child marriages and trafficking cases submitted by the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights on June 8 is "alarming".

The report has provided data from March 20 to April 14, on cases of child marriage, sexual abuse, child trafficking and other incidents of violation of child rights, the bench said.

Trafficking in the garb of child marriage or child labour is more disturbing because of the involvement of the family members of the children, the court observed.

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"Recently it has come to our notice that a report has been filed by an NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan before the Honble Supreme Court wherefrom it appears that 136 minor girls being married off in Bengal due to the lockdown and the devastation caused by cyclone Amphan," the division bench said.

Apprehension is expressed that on lifting of lockdown, there is likely to be a massive spurt in child trafficking for labour and commercial sexual exploitation, the bench noted.

"West Bengal has many porous districts and incidents of child trafficking are not uncommon. The middlemen are quite active in some of these porous districts of Bengal. We would be failing in our duty if we cannot protect the children from any kind of abuse including their exploitation," the bench observed.

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The bench noted that recent reports filed before it by the district magistrates and the superintendents of police of the districts have, however, categorically said that there had been no incident of child abuse or violation of child rights in any of their districts.

Considering the report filed by the Chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights and that of the NGO, the bench directed the principal secretary, home department, to file an affidavit with regard to the cases reported and apprehended, as well as the steps taken by it for protection of child rights.

The court ordered that the report should also specify actions taken against the perpetrators of such crimes.

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The exodus of the migrant labourers due to pandemic has exposed children to be trafficked, the court observed.

"We direct that the panchayat pradhan of all the panchayats of the respective districts should be sensitised about child rights and evils of child marriages. This order should also reach all pradhans and it would be the duty of the district magistrates that at the panchayat level these issues are addressed and remedial measures are taken with all promptitude," the division bench ordered.

In view of the reported cases of child labour, the court also directed the secretary, labour department, to look into the matter and file a report as to the steps taken by the department to prevent child labour and action taken against the perpetrators.

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The court said that all the affidavits be filed on or before June 16 and the matter will be taken up for further consideration on June 18.

It directed all the secretaries of the District Legal Services Authority to ensure that child rights are protected and to take up any incidence of child abuse either reported or apprehended immediately with the appropriate authorities.

In a report submitted before the court, the department of health said that as on June 4, out of 29,658 children of migrant workers who arrived in West Bengal from different states, 5,360 children were kept in institutional quarantine and 24,298 in home quarantine.

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General health check up was done on all 29,658 children and COVID-19 tests have been carried out on 3,005 children and about 13,603 children have been provided with mental health support, the report said. AMR NN NN
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