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The PIL before the Court raised concern that with the deepening agrarian and economic crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic, children may be trafficked and employed for cheap labour once the lockdown is lifted
Supreme Court today mulled over forming a committee to look into the issue of child trafficking for employment at private establishments (Bachpan Bachao Andolan vs National Disaster Management Authority and Ors).
The Court contemplated the same while issuing notice in a PIL filed by Bachpan Bachao Andolan for framing Government guidelines for the rescue and rehabilitation of children amid COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bench of CJI SA Bobde, AS Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy, while hearing the PIL noted that child trafficking was a menace and was carried out because there is a market for employing children on account of cheap labour. Children are trafficked for prostitution also, the Court rued.
CJI Bobde asked the Counsel for the organization as well as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to assist the Court with suggesting a mechanism to curb this menace and asked if private establishments and employers can also be registered formally in a way so as to keep in check the employment of child labour.
The Court also mulled over forming a committee of eminent persons to look into the issue. However, the Court stopped short of issuing any direction on this aspect and fixed the matter to be heard after two weeks.
The PIL before the Court prays for directions to be given to Centre to frame policy or guidelines for rescue and rehabilitation of children and for the prevention of child trafficking amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit the world. Further, a direction is also sought for such guidelines to be implemented strictly and for action to be taken against traffickers.
The petition invokes the fundamental rights of children under Articles 14, 19 along with Articles 21, 23, 24, 39, and 43. It highlights that children need to be protected from becoming helpless victims of human trafficking.
Section 370 of the Indian penal Code has a wide scope and has an expansive definition since its insertion in 2013, the petition says. It adds that the definition of trafficking includes anyone who recruits, transports, harbours, transfers, or receives a person for the purpose of exploitation by both direct and surreptitious acts.
Pointing out that child trafficking can manifest in ways such as child labour and trafficking for sex work, the petition says that with the deepening agrarian crisis and economic conditions in the country, children may be employed for cheap labour once the lockdown is lifted.
Sex trade will also look to overcome the losses it incurred on account of the lockdown and may lead to a spike in cases of underage girls bought and sold for prostitution, the PIL highlights. A large number of children may be pushed into begging, the organization also apprehends.
A targetted COVID-19 response by the authorities by way of framing guidelines or policy on this subject and ensuring its strict implementation will substantially reduce the cases of trafficking of children, the PIL submits. It adds,
The organization points out that an entire generation of children from the vulnerable classes face the risk if action is not taken by the authorities proactively. In the absence of a policy, the petitioners add that it would be a "herculean task" to rescue and rehabilitate children from the "onslaught of abuse and violence" they will be thrown into after lockdown.
The petition is filed through Advocate Jagjit Singh Chhabra. Senior Advocate HS Phoolka represented the organization before the Court.