An official from the social defence department found 12 children begging outside the Express Avenue mall in Royapettah last week. “One of the children could only say ‘5 ruva’ and ‘10 ruva’ (5 rupees and 10 rupees). I tried to ask the child the meaning of 10 ruva, she again said ‘5 ruva, 10 ruva’,” says the official. This made her suspicious, and she immediately called 1098.
But then Childline was caught up with another rescue, so the official called District Children Protection Units (DCPU) who connected her to Childline. “They came to the spot and then we went to D2 police station. By the time we came back with a police officer, it started raining and the children had run away,” she explains.
Determined to rescue the children, the officials of the social defence department along with the DCPU and Childline reached the spot once again last Tuesday. “We did not want the children to know that we were there to rescue them, so we stood at a nearby tea shop casually. But as soon as the police person came to meet us, a man directed the children to run,” the official explains.
However, this time, the officials were prepared and split into two teams to rescue the children.
“We went inside a small lane opposite the mall and we saw the man standing with a toddler. We asked him to take us to the other children, and he took us. There were two women and three more children. The two women were said to be the mother of the children and grandmother of the children. They did not have identity proof to show, they claimed that the municipal corporation had taken away all their identity cards,” the official says.
Then they were taken to D2 police station and a police complaint was filed. “The three boys who were between 5 and 10 years old were taken to a home in Royapuram and the two small girls had to be sent with the woman to another home,” she adds.
The man who was seen with the children was let off. “As we are working with children, we are only entitled to rescue the children. We filed a memo at the police station, so that in case there are any issues later, other departments can file a case against him,” the official says.
This is just one incident of children begging on the streets being rescued by officials and sent to homes run by the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). But what happens to rescued children in Tamil Nadu? What are the systems in place to take care of them, and where do they end up?
According to District Child Protection Unit, 40% of the children who are rescued often return to begging after being forced by their parents or traffickers reported The Times of India. In the month of April, about 62 children were rescued by Childline, Chennai police and DCPU from Chennai.
So what do child protection officials do to ensure that the children don’t return to begging?
A District Child Protection Officer from Chennai says that when they hand over the children to the parents, they make sure that they are the actual parents using ID proofs. Also, CWC asks them to admit the children to a school and submit a bonafide certificate to CWC.
Ashok, who is working with Childline in Chennai says, “In case we find that the children have been sent back for begging, we ensure that they stay in a home controlled by the CWC when they’re rescued for the second time. We don’t send them back with the parents.”
Moreover, he adds that in some cases, they partner with Chennai police. In one of the cases ‘Operation Muskaan’, “we made sure that the parents were arrested and were remanded to Puzhal prison,” Ashok says.
Angaline, a Child Protection Officer from Coimbatore, tells TNM, “We often conduct raids, after which they are produced before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). The parents are called and they file documents. After which, they are sent to their homes. In case, we find out that the child was kidnapped and brought, we file an FIR against the adults.”
While the child welfare departments in TN claim that they’re taking every step to ensure that children do not return to begging, activists say they’re not doing enough on the rehabilitation front.
Child rights activist Hubert says that this is an industry. Speaking about the increasing cases, he says, “What happens is that when the perpetrators find a place is lucrative, then there is migration. Often when the child is an infant, they get more money. Some of the observations are that these children are drugged. Parents could also be involved in it.”
Child beggars in a city like Coimbatore reportedly make Rs 600 to Rs 700 a day.
Hubert says, “There needs to be proper rehabilitation for these children. There are chances of child being sent back to begging by the parents themselves. CWC has been doing their best job, there is immediate action – but without a retrospective effect later. Who will take care of the children after they are sent home? There needs to be a proper rehabilitation programme.”
"The main reason for the parents to send their children for begging is money. When people see children begging, they are given more money. Also, most of these parents migrate from different parts of the country and do not know much about education. The children also once they become accustomed to getting money, often do not want to leave it," says a district child protection officer from Chennai.