Kerala police has informed the High Court that children from Bihar, West Bengal and other states were brought to orphanages in Kerala to meet the dearth of local inmates in those charity homes and prevent closure of educational institutions run by their trusts for want of children.
The Crime Branch wing of the police on Thursday submitted the report to the court which is hearing a public interest litigation seeking an order for CBI probe into the “trafficking” of children to Kerala orphanages.
The crime branch found there were no evidence for the allegation that the children were sexually abused and deputed for child labour. However, the probe said the agents had forged documents, including fake IDs to ferry children from Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand, said the report.
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At the same time, the CBI informed the court that the agency was ready to conduct the probe into the case spread over various states. The CBI counsel said the agency’s special wing to probe human trafficking, which was formed in 2012, had successfully investigated several cases of children’s trafficking. The court posted the PIL for next week for further orders.
The issue pertains to the trafficking of 455 children in two batches to Kerala from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bangal in the last week of May. They along with 33 adults, including agents and a few parents, were caught by railway police in Palakkad on charges of ticketless travelling and for want of documents to show ID.
These children were brought for a few orphanages run by Muslim managements in Kozhkode and Malappuram districts. A section of the children were on their way back to the orphanages after the summer vacation in Kerala schools.
The state police and the human rights commission have launched separate probes into the incident which was construed as illegal human trafficking. Seven agents, some of them casual workers in the orphanages, were arrested and fresh recruits were sent back to their home states after Bihar and Jharkhand governments also intervened in the controversy with separate investigations.
The issue has brought to front burner the management of orphanages in Kerala. The business of orphanages has been growing in Kerala over years. The state has 1,400-odd orphanages, many of them have grown into educational hubs over the years. Apart from the government’s monthly grant for local inmates, all the institutes were collecting donations from within the state and abroad on behalf of destitute children.
Orphanage sources said there are agents in Gulf to collect donations for the charity homes in Kerala. The agents would take 40 per cent of the gross collection as their commission and the rest would be delivered to the concerned institutes. Besides, the practice of philanthropists sponsoring food at orphanages also contributed to the coffers of the institutes.
Later, trusts behind orphanages venture into educational institutions starting with school and later into professional colleges. Since government aided schools have the freedom to appoint teachers, more inmates at orphanages helped the managements start new batches. Appointment of teachers in schools is a lucrative business for managements with a teacher’s post fetching donation in the range of Rs 25 lakh to Rs 30 lakh.
However, lower birth rates and growing general affluence slowed down the flow of children to orphanages. Many parents in Kerala became reluctant to send their wards to orphanages fearing the stigma of ‘alumnus of orphanage.’ To overcome that, some orphanages changed their names into charity homes. Even then, several institutes with huge infrastructure struggled to fill the capacity.
The above situation forced the orphanages to scout for potential candidates in poverty-stricken, strife-torn regions in North Indian states. The trend of bringing children from north Indian states began within last decade. With every passing year, more institutions were looking forward to the option of ferrying children from other states to orphanages in Kerala.
These children were sent to the education institutions run by the orphanage management trusts. Otherwise, these children were enrolled in local aided or government schools in the vicinity. Recently, some school managements in Malappuram and Kozhikode districts have started orphanages to prevent their schools turning uneconomic in future.
If agents were found sourcing children from north Indian states in many cases, there were incidents in which the migrant workers admitting their wards in Kerala orphanages.