3 April 2007, New Delhi: Hundreds of former child victims of trafficking, bondage and child labour assembled in the capital to question the relevance of SAARC conventions, pledges and protocols made by the regional leaders from time to time. They were demonstrating on the occasion of the inauguration of the 16 th SAARC summit starting today in Delhi.
Assembled at the Jantar Mantar and proceeding towards the SAARC summit venue, the children were carrying placards and chanting slogans-"stop child trafficking for forced labour, make and enforce laws to combat it"; "SAARC is silent on trafficking for forced labour. WHY?" Many of these children and activists marched for thousands of Kms across the Indo-Nepal-Bangladesh borders in the last month, participating in the South Asian march Against Child Trafficking, organized by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and others.
The demonstrators issued an open letter to the Head of State of the SAARC chair, calling for urgent action to stop the cross border and intra state child trafficking of persons. A report SAARC promises on human trafficking remain Inadequate and Undelivered was also released and submitted to the heads of the SAARC nations by the BBA. "If SAARC cannot tackle the most heinous organized crime of human trafficking with adequate political will and honesty, what else can we expect for the rituals of annual SAARC summits and the extravaganza of the bureaucracy. On what moral ground do the leaders meet in this summit when more than 50,000 children from Nepal and 40,000 children from Bangladesh are bought and sold like animals every year across the borders?" questioned Kailash Satyarthi, founder of BBA and the leader of the South Asian March Against Child Trafficking. He further lamented that one can find several commonalities on the region, but the cruelest is that the 'cost' of a child for trafficking is between Rs, 500-2000 in comparison to that of a buffalo which costs over Rs 20,000. The report talks of many other observations like "Trafficking for forced labour is not under the ambit under any legislation in the region"; "The lack of awareness is also prevalent among the law enforcement agencies (read police and district authorities), especially at the station house and constabulary levels." The report further recommends first and foremost, to expand the definition of trafficking to make it at par with the UN Protocol on Trafficking in Persons which includes trafficking for forced labour, and to develop systematic safe migration policies and effective border control.
One of the demonstrators, Shanti rescued by BBA and now living in the transit rehabilitation centre of BBA, Balika Ashram said- "I was sold for Rs 500 for the purpose of child domestic labour. I am lucky but I have come here to ask why our leaders don't want to give back our childhood. We are here to make them listen to us." R.S.Chaurasia, chairperson of BBA said- "90% of trafficking occurs for forced labour but the laws and conventions consider only prostitution as trafficking. This mentality needs a paradigm shift."