The Indian state of Bihar continues to suffer its worst monsoon flooding in decades and now a fresh humanitarian crisis is emerging, with the targeting of Bihar's vulnerable children by human traffickers. The state is already notorious for such activity, and it now appears to be going largely unchecked as authorities struggle to handle evacuation and relief operations. Three million people have been displaced in India and Nepal since flood waters from the Kosi river inundated the region two weeks ago.
Presenter: Karon Snowdon
Speakers: Kailash Satyarthi, Founder of the Save the Childhood Movement, known as Bachpan Bachao Andolan;
S.P. Singh, Bihar Red Cross Society Secretary
SNOWDON: The death toll in this disaster is unknown. Such is the chaos as many as half a million people could still be stranded, awaiting rescue. They've been without food and drinkable water for more than a week. Those who have made it to relief camps face disease and a lack of supplies. Food riots have been reported. The lucky ones have their children with them. Even so some who have saved their kids from the flood could lose them to human traffickers.
SATYARTHI: The trafficking of children from those areas was quite rampant even in the past.
SNOWDON: Kailash Satyarthi is the Founder of the New Delhi based Save the Childhood Movement, known as Bachpan Bachao Andolan. His volunteers in a town in Bihar rescued six children aged about ten from a man taking them to West Bengal. Once there they would have been sold into forced labour in tea shops or possibly prostitution. Kailash Satyarthi says he has asked for urgent action to protect the kids but with authorities fully engaged in rescue efforts, criminals are freer to operate.
SATYARTHI: So the trafficking is not their priority but unfortunately the army personnel and the police cannot go to those remote areas where the traffickers have gone.
SNOWDON: So traffickers are taking advantage of the chaos and the situation in these areas to continue or even ramp up their kidnapping of children?
SATYARTHI: Definitely, the traffickers found a kind of false freedom and they are taking the worst in human advantage of this human tragedy.
SNOWDON: And so you say this is a common occurrence in these very poor areas and children are taken I take it to work in the cities, is that correct?
SATYARTHI: Yes exactly actually the trafficking is done for the purpose of false labour, false bondage and even for prostitution, and it's quite common.
SNOWDON: Floodwaters are receding slowly yet hundreds of thousands of people might see no relief for another week, acccording to Bihar's disaster minister, Nitish Mishra. The Army has sent in more troops but operations are slow with vast distances and roads and bridges destroyed. The government hasn't called for international assistance beyond working with local and international NGO's already in the country. The Indian Red Cross Society has 1,000 volunteers and Bihar Secretary SP Singh says the task they face is very difficult.
SINGH: Thousands of people are marooned and stranded. Their condition is very miserable. Thousands of people are without shelter, without food, without water.
SNOWDON: Air drops are being made to some of those in need. Repair work to divert Nepal's Kosi River back to its normal course can't get underway until the end of the rainy season in October. As one of India's most impoverished states Bihar faces the prospect of many months of misery even after the immediate crisis eases. Many have lost their livelihood, homes, schools, hospitals and businesses have been washed away. Private citizens are helping with food and accomodation. For its part the Save the Children Movement is mobilising volunteers to protect children. They will watch at train stations and other areas where human traffickers might be identified with groups of children. Kailash Satyarthi is not satisfied the authorities are doing enough.
SATYARTHI: We are not really satisfied. Unfortunately wherever the natural calamity of flood or drought or whatever happens the children are the worst victims, children are more traumatised, children are more frightened. Also in this case the whole distribution of food and all those things are not really enough so far.