Indian churches hail probe into pastor-led 'child trafficking'

Newspapers report that trafficking revolves around poor parents being persuaded to give their children to orphanages far away, believing they will receive a better education.

December 6, 2010 | Web First
By Anto Akkara | Ecumenical News International
Chennai, India

Church officials and activists have welcomed an investigation ordered by India's federal Supreme Court into trafficking in children by pastors and exploitative Christians eyeing ways to pull in foreign donations.

"Such unscrupulous social work by some Christians is bringing discredit to the entire Christian community. Such transplantation will not help the growth of the children," Bishop G. Devakadasham, the Church of South India's deputy moderator, told ENInews.

Devakadasham heads the CSI diocese of Kanyakumari in the southern Tamil Nadu state where the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has conducted raids on dubious orphanages at the direction of the Supreme Court.

The Indian Express newspaper has reported that trafficking revolves around poor parents being persuaded to give their children to orphanages far away, believing they will receive a better education. Instead the children are said to be lodged in institutions without adequate infrastructure or food. 

David Prabhakar of the CSI Diaconal Ministry told ENInews that at least six such dubious orphanages have been already shut after the raid by the NCPCR, which is an autonomous national commission monitoring child rights.

The commission in its report to the Supreme Court noted that, "All-out efforts are being made by pastors and other categories of persons who are reaching out to source areas through middlemen for getting children in order to obtain financial support from churches within the country or donations from outside."

The report came after the national commission's secretary general B K Sahu visited Kanyakumari to investigate complaints lodged with India's highest court that independent pastors and Christian social workers were trafficking in children from impoverished north-east to run orphanages and hostels in south India in order to raise international donations.

"The main reason for children being sent out by the poor parents to far off places in southern states is due to their high expectation of quality education for their children which is not available at their own places," the commission said.

The commission also reported that in some poor families struggling for survival, parents allow their young children to be taken to orphanages more than 2500 kilometres (1553 miles) away in southern states.

"The problem is much worse than we guessed initially," Sahu, who heads the child rights' monitoring agency, told ENInews in a telephone interview from New Delhi. "Now we are waiting for more directions from the Supreme Court to make our findings public and launch more raids."

At the same time, Mathews Ashok Philip, director of Bangalore-based SICHREM (the South
India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring) said that apart from some Christians, Hindu nationalist groups have also been trafficking in children from the north-east to the coastal areas around Mangalore.

"Several new orphanages have come up in the area. Their argument is that they want to protect the children from being converted to Christianity in the north-east," Philip said.

Three of the seven states in north-east India are connected to Indian mainland by a narrow strip of land ˆ have Christian majorities.

SICHREM has already filed a complaint with the federal commission about the increasing trafficking in children spreading to more areas, he said.

"Once the children are taken out, they have no contact with the poor parents. Whoever is guilty, it's a shame that they are taking the young children out of their cultural milieu and even force them to learn languages unfamiliar to their culture," Philip added.

Though politically one nation, India comprises of hundreds of ethnic groups and is divided into 28 states and seven federally administered areas with each state having it own distinct cultures and language exclusive to it. English and Hindi remain the linguas franca.

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