By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Decades of neglect of Indian children's rights have created a breeding ground for children to be trafficked and abused, said a prominent lawmaker on Monday, calling for a dedicated agency to detect and prosecute child traffickers.
Crime data released by the government last week showed more than 40 percent of human trafficking cases in 2015 involved children being bought, sold and exploited as modern day slaves.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who last year set up the campaign group the National Coalition to Protect our Children, said Indian society had long been in denial about child exploitation.
"With child rights and safety being left unregulated for decades, we have created a fertile ground for their trafficking and abuse," said Chandrasekhar, a member of parliament from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru.
Government figures showed a 25 percent increase in cases of human trafficking in India in 2015, with 43 percent of the 9,127 victims below the age of 18.
The crimes included inducing a young girl with the intent of sexual intercourse, buying or selling a girl for prostitution, and keeping a child as a slave.
"Children cannot speak for themselves and neither can they organize themselves as an effective group. They depend on adults to get them justice, and we are failing them," Chandrasekhar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In a series of letters written to the government over the last year, Chandrasekhar has asked for a revision of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, clearer emphasis on child trafficking in the proposed Anti-Trafficking Bill and a child sexual offender register across police stations in India.
"The depth and lack of sensitivity in government departments is startling," he said.
"The existing laws are not working. Reporting crimes under these acts, proper investigations and evidence collection is also not happening. A rethink is urgently required."
Chandrasekhar said poor regulation of India's orphanages and child-care homes had turned them into spaces for abuse and trafficking.
"A couple of years back, a young urban couple came to me seeking justice. Their three-year-old child had been raped in her school. They lived in a modern Indian metropolis but had no access to justice. That feeling of helplessness for care givers and parents of victims has to change," he said.
Justice eludes many children who are victims of these crimes. Activists blame a slow judicial process and poor use of funds by Indian states.
"We need specialists who understand the laws that promise our children safety. We also need child friendly courtrooms and officials who understand that the child is a unique victim."
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)