More than a thousand children go missing from Calcutta every year, never to return.
A report on human trafficking in the country, compiled by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), dubs Calcutta one of the most unsafe cities in the country for children.
A total of 5,495 children have remained on the missing list in a span of six years, between 1996 and 2001.
“The number of children reported missing in 2001, compared with the number in 1996-1997, shows a very high increase in Calcutta, followed by Hyderabad, Mumbai and Chennai. On an average, 15,407 children are reported missing every year from six metros in the country,” said the report, Action Research on Trafficking in Women and Children in India.
“Where these children have disappeared is a question to ponder over seriously,” the report adds.
It places Calcutta second, some distance from Delhi but well ahead of Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.
The NHRC is of the opinion that among other factors, disappearance could be related to human trafficking that is rampant in Bengal.
“The link between missing persons and trafficking cannot be ruled out. West Bengal experiences a high rate of trafficking in the country,” said P.M. Nair, principal investigator in the project.
The report said the state’s contiguity to Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan and the states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa has made it an ideal hub for trafficking, where deals are struck and victims transported to far-off locations across the country.
A map showing the trafficking routes reveals multiple networks flourishing in the state and spreading out to Rajasthan in the north-west and Tamil Nadu in the south.
Bengal also figures among the six states with a high incidence of trafficking in male children. Unlike girl children trafficked mainly to be sold to the flesh trade, the missing boys are meant largely for “exploitative labour”.
Among other measures, the report has suggested amendment of existing laws to check trafficking and setting up of a nodal agency under the NHRC to monitor the alarming trend.