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While the practice of camel jockeying by children continues to plague some poor and impoverished Muslim countries, West Bengal has contributed nearly 50 per cent (25,000 out of 40,000) of the child force deployed for the “despicable’’ sport in the UAE.
According to an officer of the National Informatics Centre, which is involved in developing a portal for tracking the missing children of the state, child trafficking for camel jockeying is a new menace in the poor pockets of the Muslim belt of Bengal.
Out of 160,000 children, who were registered missing in West Bengal over the past two years, 15 per cent are found to be male children.
Since the best camel jockeys are usually small and lightweight, boys between five and 10 years are preferred. The children are strapped to the saddles to keep them from slipping off and to minimise the weight of the jockey the children are underfed before major races.
Despite the strapping, since the racing camels attain speeds of 40 kilometres per hour, the rider is highly prone to falling off and being trampled by the camel.
An officer of the NIC said: “Though 70 per cent of 160,000 children going missing were found to have been trafficked into flesh trade, 15 per cent of children, from toddlers to 10 years, were tracked into camel jockeying.”
Interestingly, poor families have a role in sending their children as camel jockeys since such a practice is lucrative. Since a majority of parents send their children at their own will, a large number of cases go unrecorded and so this 15 per cent figure might be a tip of the iceberg.
The NIC has so far tracked the whereabouts of 93,000 children (which is 58 per cent of the total number of missing kids) over a period of two years – January 2014 to January 2016 – and sent them home.
“The recovery of this huge number has been possible because of the tracking portal the government has introduced to check human trafficking,” said the officer.
The success of tracking is all set to make West Bengal government win a prestigious national award in e-governance.
The portal—www.trackthemissingchild.gov.in, introduced by the department of Women and Child Development as a pilot project in West Bengal in 2007- 2008 is being adopted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as a role model for other states, affected with similar problems of child trafficking.
The portal is a digitised version of a police diary of the missing person, which anybody across the country and even the world can view and track, including the officials, responsible for the search. Even the parents, whose child has gone missing, can get to know instantly through the portal if anybody has bumped into the child or has any clue about the child.
The government is planning to make people aware of the tracking portal so that they can get to check the portal at least once in a day to check if the chance encounter with the child, maimed and begging on the traffic signals, or hooking at joints or working as a child labour, match the photos of the missing children, put up on the portal.
“It should be the responsibility of the people of the country to help track and find the children and not just the responsibility of the parents, the police and a handful individuals concerned,” said an official of the state social welfare department.