As the pandemic drags on around the world, people are taking increasingly desperate measures to earn a living. The latest heartbreaking example comes from India, where a 22-year-old mother from the southern city of Hyderabad was recently arrested for allegedly selling her two-month old baby for around US $600.
Shaikh Zoya Khan reportedly sold her baby to finance her move to the financial capital of Mumbai. Her husband had walked out on her on a few days earlier, after a petty fight, leaving her to fend for herself and her newborn. But when he returned home, he discovered she’d sold their child and filed a complaint with local police on August 11.
Police have arrested six people in connection to the case under the Juvenile Justice Act. These include Khan, the couple she sold the baby to, their family members, and the two mediators who brokered the exchange.
However, in India, this isn’t an isolated case.
In May, another couple in Hyderabad tried to sell their two-month old son for INR 22,000 (USD $293). The couple were both migrant construction labourers who had lost their jobs in the COVID-19 lockdown.
In a third case, a domestic worker and her husband in the west Indian city of Kolkata, sold their two-and-a-half-month old daughter for as little as INR 3,000 (USD $40) back in June.
And in yet another case, a migrant worker in the Northeastern state of Assam sold his 15-day old daughter for INR 45,000 (USD $600) in July.
The trafficking of children is a serious problem in India, where it is estimated a child goes missing every eight minutes. Most children sold off at an early age are forced into labour or are sexually exploited.
The frequency of recent cases affirms a prediction from Indian NGO, Bachpan Bachao Andolan. In a plea filed in the Supreme Court, the organisation said that lockdown restrictions would lead to a spike in child trafficking.
The NGO filed a petition after several cases of child trafficking were reported in states across the country. “It’s a poignant reality that poverty and hunger awaits them (daily wage workers and migrant labourers), as they would have migrated (to cities) in the first place due to lack of work in their native villages,” the plea stated. “Many will be forced into a vicious debt cycle at predatory interest rates because of their dire financial situation, which will prove to be a fertile ground for child traffickers.”
In response to their petition, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the central government, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the nine Indian states where such crimes were most prevalent on June 8, urging them to form appropriate policies to prevent child trafficking during India’s lockdown.
A July 2020 report by Save the Children, an NGO working for child rights and protection, found that not only were a quarter of human trafficking victims minors, but also the COVID-19 pandemic isolated these children and made it harder to rescue them.
A report by child rights NGO Save the Children shared with VICE News details that eight out of 10 vulnerable households with children surveyed reported a loss of jobs or income.
The United Nations Drug and Crime Research Brief released in May predicted that the economic downturn caused by global lockdowns and social distancing could potentially lead to a rise in human trafficking.
According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, 48 percent of cases of human trafficking reported in 2018 involved people under the age of 18, from a total of 5,264.
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