Child trafficking racket involving private maternity homes unearthed

The Mysuru district police have unearthed a child trafficking racket involving private maternity homes, and rescued 17 children who had been “sold” to childless couples in different parts of Karnataka and Kerala. The police said the racket may have ramification beyond the country as well.

What began as an investigation into the abduction of a nine-month-old son of a beggar, from a pavement in Nanjangud town in April this year, led to the unearthing of the racket involving not just street children but also babies born to unwed mothers in hospitals in Mysuru. Eight persons, including nurses and lab technicians of two hospitals and middlemen, have been arrested.

“The children were rescued from caretakers in Mysuru, Madikeri, Mangaluru and Shivamogga in the State, and also from Kerala. The number may go up to 25 as we are continuing our investigation on those trafficked to Kenya and the U.S.,” Ravi Channanavar, Superintendent of Police, Mysuru district, told The Hindu on Friday.

He said the accused targeted unwed mothers approaching the maternity homes for abortion and convinced them to stay in a rented place nearby and deliver the baby “in the interest of their own health”, while assuring them of taking care of the child. The accused would, in the meantime, strike a deal with childless couples and create fake documents, including birth certificates with name of the “purchaser” as parent. The rescued children, who had earlier been sold for a price ranging from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh, have now been handed over to the District Child Welfare Committee.

Emotional separation

The separation of the “rescued” children from their caretakers has created an emotional turmoil for both.

The 17 rescued children, now housed in the Children’s Home in Mysuru, are in different age groups starting from as young as 30-days-old to 5-years-old. “Though it is a difficult time for them, we are ensuring that the best possible care is provided,” Chairperson of Mysuru district Child Welfare Committee (CWC) Sheela Khare told The Hindu.

Mr. Channanavar admitted that the children were passing through an emotional phase. “You will cry on seeing the plight of the children there,” he said, but added that the police were helpless.

Baburaj, advocate and former member of the Mysuru district CWC, said the committee had powers to identify the caretakers as fit persons and hand over the children to them for foster care under the Juvenile Justice Act.

The children have developed a bonding with their caretakers as they have been staying with them for a long period of time. “The children were being looked after very well and some were even being sent to babysitting and schools,” he said.

“If the child had been bought for prostitution, begging, child labour or other forms of exploitation, it is an offence. But, that is clearly not the case here,” he said, arguing that it was in the best interest of the children to be handed over back to the caretakers.

However, Ms. Khare, who ruled out such a possibility, said the CWC would look up to the State government for a policy decision or a direction to tide over such an unprecedented situation. “We are coming across such a situation for the first time in which so many trafficked children had been separated from their caretakers. We don’t even have a precedent to follow,” she said.

Eight arrested

The eight arrested include Usha, a lab technician in a private maternity home, her husband Francis, both natives of Kerala, Shrimathi, a staff nurse, who has worked in different hospitals in Mysuru and Nanjangud, Madan Lal, an agent, who sold the trafficked children to childless couples, besides Mohana, a contract nurse working in K.R. Hospital in Mysuru.

The accused, who used to sell the children, would fix the price based on their physical features. “If the features were good, the baby would command a better price. One girl child, who could not be sold, has been raised by one of the accused herself,” the police said.

During the investigation, one of the accused, Francis, was caught red-handed transporting a month-old baby in a cardboard box from Mysuru to Kerala, Mr. Channanavar said. The accused have been booked under Sections 363, 365, 368, and 370 of the IPC, which deal with human trafficking, child trafficking, and kidnapping.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 4:15:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/Child-trafficking-racket-involving-private-maternity-homes-unearthed/article16668217.ece

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