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Another child horror story

- Kerala orphanage shut, 20 kids from Jharkhand rescued

Thiruvananthapuram, June 10: An unauthorised orphanage was shut down in Kollam yesterday and as many as 24 children, 20 of them from Jharkhand, were rescued amid a clamour for a CBI investigation into trafficking allegations against a similar institution in Kozhikode in Kerala.

Acting on a tip-off, a team lead by Kollam district collector Pranab Jyothinath raided the orphanage run by Perayam Jamaliya Arabic College, only to find the children housed in unhealthy surroundings.

The children, who were put up in a crammed makeshift shed, were subsequently shifted to a state-run home. All the children were below 18, officials said. Four of them were from Bihar.

While the crackdown was on in Kollam yesterday, last minute details were being worked to send back 119 children from Godda to Jharkhand, a fortnight after they were intercepted by police from a station in Palakkad.

Finally, escorted by an eight-member team from Jharkhand led by labour commissioner Manish Ranjan, the children were put on Ernakulam-Patna Express yesterday around 8pm. They are expected to reach Jasidih in Deoghar tomorrow around 3pm.

These children were a part of a group of 456, including children from Bihar and Bengal. Rescued on May 24 and May 25, they were being taken to Mukkam Muslim Orphanage in neighbouring Kozhikode district.

In Kollam, officials explained that the institution run by the Arabic college was operating without a licence and did not keep personal records of the children. The collector has now sought a detailed report from the police, social welfare department and child welfare committee.

Surprise checks were also carried out at an orphanage in Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district where 21 inmates were found to be of Jharkhand origin, the police said. The orphanage has now been told to produce records of the children, including their address, and sanction for bringing them to Kerala.

Today, Kerala High Court fixed June 30 as the day of hearing a petition seeking a CBI probe into the May 24-May 25 rescue by the railway wing of state police in Palakkad district.

The petitioner NGO claimed it suspected the existence of an inter-state racket and that only a central agency would be able to unravel the nexus, if any, between the traffickers, financiers and orphanages.

Kerala police crime branch, which took over the probe from the railway police, has so far arrested 10 persons, allegedly agents from Jharkhand and Bengal.

A special team of the crime branch will travel to Ranchi tomorrow with one of the arrested, Shafeeq Sheikh, for further investigations. The 30-year-old hailing from Persia village in Godda was employed as a cook at the Mukkam orphanage and had helped bring at least a dozen children to Kerala in the past, the police believe.

The police are, however, yet to arrest any of the orphanage officials. Opposition BJP and CPM claim political pressure behind the go-slow, alleging the government was deliberately avoiding pressing child trafficking charges against officials of the Mukkam orphanage with links to Indian Union Muslim League, an ally of the ruling Congress.

IUML supremo Hyderali Shihab Thangal heads the advisory board of the orphanage under scanner.

Yesterday, the Opposition Left staged a walkout from the Kerala Assembly after the Speaker denied permission for an adjournment motion to discuss the issue.

Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy had earlier sought to dilute the controversy saying the orphanages may have committed procedural lapses.

But if anyone had doubts on where the investigation was headed, home minister Ramesh Chenntihala’s statement was enough to dispel those. The minister who had earlier maintained that he would not comment on the matter as it might influence the investigation told the House that he had never said there was human trafficking involved in the issue.


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