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Referring to reports by the WB Child Rights Commission and an NGO, the Court noted that "an apprehension is expressed that on lifting of lockdown there is likely to be a massive spurt in child trafficking."
The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday expressed concern over the possible spurt in child trafficking cases that may follow the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, after a perusing a report filed by the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights Chairperson (In re: Contagion of COVID-19 Virus in Children Protection Homes).
The Bench of Justices Harish Tandon and Soumen Sen noted that,
The Bench was told on that there had been no incident of child abuse or violation of child rights in any districts as per recent reports of the District Magistrates and the Superintendents of Police.
However, the High Court decided to issue certain directions to further monitor the issue, considering the alarming report filed by the Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and a report by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan which had also moved the Supreme Court over the issue.
The High Court observed that while it is a common perception that the family is the safest heaven for younger children, "they are trafficked by the family itself because of the poverty and uncertainty of the social stability."
Further, it was noted that such trafficking risks have been heightened amid the pandemic and exodus of migrants, whereby "these younger children (are exposed) to be trafficked for some monetary gain and sustainability in life."
The Court added that "Trafficking in the garb of the child marriage or child labour are more disturbing because of the involvement of the family members of the children."
In view of the same, the Court has now issued the following directions:
The Principal Secretary, Home Department is to file an affidavit on the cases of child trafficking/ abuse reported and apprehended as well as the steps taken by the Home Department with regard to the protection of child rights. This report should also specify as to the actions taken against the perpetrators of such crimes.
The Panchayat Pradhan of all the Panchayats of the respective districts should be sensitized about the child rights and evils of child marriages.
It would be duty of the District Magistrates that at the panchayat level these issues are addressed and remedial measures are taken with all promptitude.
The Secretary, Labour Department, to look into the matter and file a report as to the steps taken by the Labour Department to prevent child labour and action taken by them against the perpetrators.
All the Secretaries of the District Legal Services Authority are directed to ensure that the child rights are protected. They shall take up any incidence of child abuse either reported or apprehended immediately with the appropriate authorities.
On Wednesday, the Court also examined various affidavits filed so far by concerned State Government authorities on the state of child protection homes amid the pandemic.
Inter alia, the Court has directed the Government to maintain a list of counsellors for each child protection home so as to ensure that the children never suffer due to lack of counselling. In this regard, the State has been directed to file an affidavit disclosing the clinical psychologist attached to all homes in each district.
The Court also emphasised that all children, whether they are in protection homes or temporarily released to their parents on account of the pandemic, would require constant monitoring and that their safely and security are of paramount consideration.
As far as children of migrant workers were concerned, the Court has asked the Government to respond on the following issues noted upon perusing their responses:
Of the 29,658 children accounted for by the State, why was mental health support stated to have been provided only to 13,603 children?
Further, why was the COVID-19 test only carried out for 3,005 of these children?
The Court has also called for a report on the infrastructure of the Institutions designated as institutional quarantine centres for such children, including the number of Doctors and Councilors attached to such quarantine centres. The Government had submitted that as of June 4, 5,360 children were kept in institutional quarantine.
Queries were also raised over the Government's submission that 45 children were in the category of “higher referral” and that with respct to 803 children “some specific actions were taken”, without specifying the nature of action. The Court has asked the Government to clarify what exactly these submissions indicate.
The reports called for are to be submitted by way of affidavits by June 16. The Court has listed the matter to be taken up next on June 18.