From Motihari they were being taken to Tirupur to work as labourers in the textile industry. A Motihari resident who helps source cheap labour for the industry said the companies paid the middlemen a commission for sending children to Tirupur.

When 34 boys fled the Government’s Children Home for Boys at Royapuram here last week, and most of them were rounded up soon after, it appeared to be just another breach of security in such institutions. However, a deeper probe has brought to light a thriving child trafficking racket that runs across Bihar and Tamil Nadu.

An investigation by The Hindu revealed that a group of nine children from Motihari, a small town in the East Champaran district of Bihar, was behind the escape bid. They had been brought to Chennai for “a better life and more opportunities.” The children, in the 13-18 age-group, were lured away from their impoverished parents with promises of employment.

The nine were rescued by Childline, an organisation working for the welfare of children in need of protection, near the Chennai Central Station last week. Childline staff said the children were starving when they found them. A few of them have since been reunited with their families, according to the Superintendent of the Royapuram boys’ home.

They were being taken to Tirupur to work as labourers in the textile industry. The middlemen used a 21-year-old man from Motihari who works in Tirupur to take the children to Chennai.

A Motihari resident who helps source cheap labour for the industry said the companies paid the middlemen a commission for sending children to Tirupur.

“The thekedaar [contractor] paid us Rs. 1,000 in return for providing a job to my son,” said Parbar, a daily-wage earner at Majaria village near Motihari whose son is one of the nine children rescued by Childline.

“We are extremely poor and work in the fields to make a living. My son didn’t want to study. So he ran away from the village with his friends. A thekedaar took them away,” said Sheekanthidevi, whose son was among those lodged in the government home in Royapuram.

The children were promised a monthly pay of Rs. 4,500, in addition to food and lodging. “A contractor picked my brother up with other boys in Motihari and brought him to Chennai. He promised income, food and lodging for the kids,” said Aftab, whose younger brother left home in search of a job.

“We have had instances of trafficking in the past. A few months ago children from my district were taken to Madhya Pradesh. It is a very big district with over 50 per cent of the population below poverty line. The impoverished parents are easily influenced by the so-called contractors,” says Abhijit Singh, District Magistrate, East Champaran, Bihar.

The children who land up in the city in search of a job often end up in miserable conditions as the harrowing tales of those lodged at juvenile homes illustrate. The boys from Motihari would have met the same fate had they not been rescued. However, rehabilitation eludes them.

“My son was crying when I spoke to him on the phone. He said he was threatened that he would be kept inside a jail for five years,” said Naju Mohammed, a daily wage worker in Motihari whose 16-year-old son was part of the group brought to the city.

“Migrant children don’t like the food, do not understand the local language, and communication becomes difficult for even those who know Hindi,” said Geeta Ramaseshan, senior lawyer practising in the Madras High Court.

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