On 22 September, the Kerala High Court registered a suo motu case against orphanages involved in trafficking children from other states. A division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice AM Shafique directed the Kerala government to file a status report within four weeks regarding the details of inmates in private orphanages who are not from the state.
âThe advocate general is directed to submit the list of inmates from other states staying in various orphanages across the state,â the division bench observed. The bench took note of media reports, including the TEHELKA Â investigation, which exposed large-scale trafficking of children from Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand to orphanages in Kerala, promising free education and lodging.
In May, the Railway Police got suspicious when hundreds of children alighted from a train at the Palakkad railway station. Soon, it was discovered that many of them were travelling without tickets and were being taken to private orphanages in Kozhikode and Malappuram.
In total, 578 children were detained. They were being trafficked from West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar.
Soon, the Railway Police registered cases against the Mukkam Muslim Orphanage in Kozhikode district and Anwarul Huda Orphanage in Malappuram district under Section 370(5) of the Indian Penal Code and arrested seven persons who accompanied the children.
The Central government, the National Child Rights Commission, the National Human Rights Commission and the State Child Rights Commission demanded an explanation from the Kerala government.
The state government handed over the investigation to the Crime Branch. The Jharkhand Police also registered a separate case against the orphanages for child trafficking. The investigations remain incomplete.
The high court directed the state government to provide data about the orphanages, both recognised and unrecognised, and asked whether it had conducted an inspection regarding the orphanagesâ state of affairs.
TEHELKA Â exposed the sordid racket of child trafficking in the name of charity (Orphaned by Greed, 14 June). The orphanage mafia lured children from other states to Kerala and admitted them in Malayalam-medium schools to appoint more teachers and claim government grants.
The allegation of child trafficking is nothing new. After receiving several complaints of child trafficking, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had ordered investigation into the affairs of the orphanages in Kerala.
In February 2013, SHRC chairman Justice (retd) JB Koshy directed Inspector General of Police S Sreejith to conduct a detailed investigation into the orphanages.
âI had received several complaints regarding the functioning of orphanages across Kerala and ordered a probe into the complaints,â said Justice Koshy. âThere were complaints about largescale trafficking of children from other states to Kerala in the violation of basic child rights. I had directed the Inspector General of Police, who is attached to the State Human Rights Commission as the anti-trafficking nodal officer, to probe the issue and submit a report. We had issued notices to all orphanages in the state to provide the list of inmates. But most of the orphanages did not respond to our directive.â
Many orphanages resisted the investigation and provided only a partial list of the inmates. Later, IGP Sreejith inspected the orphanages and recovered documents and recorded the statements of the management and inmates.
âOn several occasions, the intelligence agencies had alerted the state government regarding child trafficking from other states,â says Sreejith. âBut many orphanages continue to bring children from other states in the name of charity. As per law, children from outside the state are not eligible for grants given by the social welfare department. But the management faked documents to get government grants. The orphanages receiving foreign donations also are not eligible for grant in aid. But all the orphanages filed false affidavits to claim the grant. I have seized documents regarding these violations and submitted the reports to the SHRC.â
The SHRC report revealed that orphanages used agents to lure impoverished children from other states. The SHRC submitted its findings to the Kerala High Court and included the TEHELKA investigation in the report.
When the SHRC and the Railway Police invoked antitrafficking laws, the orphanage managements tried to communalise the issue and unleashed a campaign saying that the police were targeting Muslim organisations.
Indian Union Muslim League leaders threatened Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala against âtarnishing the image of Muslim charity organisationsâ with the help of the police.
Taking serious note of the incident, the Child Rights Protection Commission directed the state government to take necessary steps to send the children back home.
The TEHELKA investigation revealed that the orphanages bringing children from other states never bothered to give them quality education as they were admitted in Malayalam- medium schools run by the charity organisations.
The Anwarul Huda Orphanage issued id cards to students with the contact number of a local government school. The management told the police that it was a typing error done by a data entry operator. But the police suspect that it was done deliberately to divert the sleuths.
Meanwhile, the Jharkhand government is also planning to file chargesheets against two orphanages for trafficking children to Kerala. A team of police officials led by Jharkhand Crime Branch Superintendent of Police Mathivanan visited Kerala and took statements from orphanage managements and inmates.
âWe are going to frame charges soon,â says Mathivanan. âWe have found that there are a large number of children from Jharkhand staying in Kerala orphanages without the knowledge of the Jharkhand Child Welfare Committee.â
Now, with the high court registering a case against orphanages, the state government will be forced to take action against the orphanages that claimed crores of rupees in grants by submitting fake documents.
âThe court directive will expose the black sheep in the Kerala orphanage industry,â says former MP Sebastian Paul. âNo government had taken action against the powerful orphanage lobby as they had political and religious backing. In fact, these charity organisations run orphanages as a cover for their illegal activities.â