The couple say that when their three-and-a-half-year-old “son” comes on screen for the allotted 10 minutes every day, he cries out: “Mumma come, Papa come.”
But the story behind this emotional exchange is at the heart of a Mumbai Police case of alleged trafficking involving six boys that reached the Bombay High Court last year — and is now caught in the Covid lockdown.
The boy, like the other five, all aged between seven months to five years, is in the care of Bal Anand, an adoption agency in Chembur. Police say he was allegedly sold by his Mumbai-based biological parents to a Delhi couple when he was a few days old in 2016. The couple raised the child till last May, when the Mumbai Crime Branch came knocking at their door.
The “adoptive father” was arrested and the boy, along with the others who had allegedly been sold to different people, was sent to the agency. Months later, the man was released on bail, and approached the court along with the other “parents”.
In November, they were allowed by Bombay High Court to meet the children at Bal Anand every day from noon to 4 pm.
They also filed for legal adoption in a sessions court while a petition to quash the police FIR is pending before the High Court.
But the lockdown has complicated the situation. Before the travel curbs came into place, the Delhi couple, along with their teenaged daughter, had moved to a hotel in Mumbai to be near the boy.
“I left my business behind since our son means the world to us. We went to meet him every single day. But as soon as the lockdown was announced, on March 23, we took a flight for Delhi. I petitioned the lower court to grant us custody of the child in these extreme circumstances. We were allowed to meet him through video conferencing for 10 minutes daily,” the parent told The Indian Express.
“The agency makes the video call in the evening. He doesn’t understand why we are not visiting him or why he was taken away. It is traumatic. But if we don’t make the call, it will appear that we don’t care for the child and that will worsen our case to adopt him legally,” the parent said.
The Mumbai Crime Branch says it busted the trafficking racket in July last year, and is likely to file a chargesheet soon. Officers say it is a case of exploitation since all the children are male and from poor families in Mumbai.
According to police, at least nine intermediaries were involved in the racket, including nurses from hospitals in poor areas, surrogate mothers and employees at IVF centres. They have also arrested the alleged “mastermind” who has been identified as Pawan Sharma, a Delhi resident. Sharma, the six couples who “bought” the children, and the intermediaries are out on bail.
“When we took the children to the adoption centre according to court orders in July, we told them that they are being kept in the hostel for their studies,” Police Inspector Aparna Joshi, the investigating officer, said. “We had to be sensitive with the kids and think of their future,” DCP Akbar Pathan, who is overseeing the case, said.
According to an officer, in three of the six cases, the families did not have any children while the alleged reason for the rest was “the pressure to have a male child”.
For instance, the officer said, a 32-year-old taxi driver from Bhiwandi, who is among the accused, told police that his wife was under pressure from his extended family to deliver a boy after two girls.
“When his wife delivered a girl again, one of the accused met him and offered to arrange a male child for Rs 3.84 lakh. The taxi driver sold his house and other belongings, and told his family that his wife had delivered twins. When police arrested the man and took the child away, the family had already arranged for a naming ceremony for the twins,” the officer said.
In Mumbai’s Shivaji Nagar, a woman, who had “given up” her son to the intermediaries, said: “My husband died in 2012, when I was pregnant with our fifth child. I work for a catering service and at a wedding, a woman asked if I would give up the child that was yet to be born. I was struggling to raise my children, and I wanted the baby to have a better life,” she said.
The woman said she handed over the infant to one of the accused, days after delivery. Five years later, she met her son again — when the police took her during investigation to a hospital for a DNA test. “But I did not talk to him. While giving him away, I had decided that I’d never look back,” she said.
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