The physical torture and sexual exploitation of migrant children living in major railway stations of Bengal became apparent when a couple of years back several such children drew the sketch of a stick at a drawing programme held during a survey.
According to researchers associated with the programme, the sketch of a stick drawn by most of these migrant children was a symbol of physical abuse. The sticks not only indicated “physical assault by the law enforcement personnel but also sexual abuse as it can be interpreted as the male genitalia,” the researchers said.
A study has revealed that these children (average age 12) are subjected to extensive “physical and sexual abuse.”
The study, published in a report of the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (MCRG), a leading forum of research scholars, was jointly authored by Sabir Ahamed, a research coordinator at the Pratichi Trust, and Debarati Bagchi, former research associate with MCRG.
“Their profiles recorded by the NGOs and Railway Authorities reveal that an overwhelming 78 per cent of the children traced as runaway children or missing children at Sealdah station belong to marginalised social groups, i.e, Scheduled Castes and Muslims,” stated the research paper titled “A Study of Women and Children Migrants in Calcutta.” It also states that on an average three migrant children arrive at major railway stations of the State everyday.
In the study, Mr. Ahamed points out that one of the key reasons behind these children running away from home is the “pressure” from their parents to financially contribute to the family. Majority of these homeless children at Sealdah station are from North and South 24 Parganas districts as well as from Howrah and Hooghly. While 80 per cent of these children are from Bengal, the rest are from Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
They also fall prey to drug addiction and spend most of their earnings on it. “They spent most of their meagre daily income, ranging from Rs. 350 to Rs. 500, on drugs and sometimes on sex,” Mr. Ahamed told The Hindu.
As for women migrants, research by Ms. Bagchi has found that they (migrant women) increasingly preferred rag picking over working as domestic help.
“Rag picking provides them flexible working hours and they also do not have to face the humiliation involved in working as domestic help,” she told The Hindu. As domestic help, these women are not only discriminated against in wages but are often not allowed to use the toilet at the houses of employers.