India, for long has been considered the source, destination and transit country for children for forced labour and sexual exploitation. A high volume of trafficking in India is internal and from most disadvantaged social and economic strata. The trafficking between states in the country is rising due to increased urbanisation, increased mobility and rapid industrialisation which require cheap labour.

The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child (below 18 years of age) for the purpose of exploitation is considered as child trafficking. As per International Labour Organisation, child trafficking is about taking children out of their protective environment and preying on their vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation.

In 2011, the SC constituted a panel which submitted its report in 2019. The panel asked the apex court to direct the NCRB to compile data on missing children and women to identify the areas prone to trafficking. According to NCRB study, the common causes of trafficking were forced marriages, child labour, domestic help and sexual exploitation among others. Mumbai and Kolkata reported maximum number of trafficking. Madhya Pradesh recorded the maximum number of missing cases of children while Maharashtra reported the most cases of missing women. Maharashtra, however registered a decline of over 41% in number of missing children in 2018 as compared to 2017 while Assam registered a growth of 41% as compared to the previous year. Of all the states, on missing women, Odisha registered an increase of over 143% in 2018 as compared to 2017.

Commercial sex work and labour accounts for a large share of child trafficking in India. Poverty, patriarchal bias, low level of girl’s education and dowry practice, conflicts, natural disasters are the important dynamics of child trafficking. On the other hand, globalisation and economic boom has increased the demand for sex workers and cheap labour.

The main problem in dealing with the issue is lack of proper and accurate data. However, besides the constitutional provisions, the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 are some of the important mechanisms for combating trafficking.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) reported that the states of Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh were the source states in the North East from where children as young as 5 yr old were trafficked in the name of free education. The destination states of these children were Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

According to National Crime Records Bureau data, in 2016, West Bengal reported 3113 cases of child trafficking, the highest or 34% of total cases in India. Of the total cases, 86% or 2687 were girls. Three in five or 9034 of 15379 persons trafficked in 2016 were below 18 years of age, National Crime Records Bureau data show.  West Bengal, the most children-trafficked is followed by UP and Gujarat. West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha were the common source areas for trafficking to red-light areas of the country, as per India Country Assessment Report, 2013 on anti-human trafficking, brought out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

These are only reported cases. Many trafficking cases go unreported or unnoticed. Hence, no tracking method can give us an exact figure. However, the situation and trend is alarming and need sincere effort by the Government with policies and implementation on ground to check and prevent the menace.