Kolkata (AsiaNews) - Thousands of minors go missing in the Indian state of West Bengal each year, forced into prostitution, working at illegal and underpaid jobs, living on the streets or sold by human traffickers.
With 11,288 children missing out of a total of 32,342, West Bengal had the worst record in the country in 2011. And then, the numbers are only partial since many missing children are not reported.
Poverty and illiteracy are the main cause, especially in country villages and rural areas. In West Bengal's Jailapaiguri District for example, 1.9 million households live on less than a dollar a day.
To earn some rupees, parents end up "selling" their children to placement agents who promise to find them jobs in the big cities. "For these families, sending children to work is the only way to survive," Reynold Chhetri, deputy superintendent of police in Darjeeling, told AsiaNews.
Usually traffickers bring the children to cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Gurgaon. After that, parents never hear from them again.
Children find employment as domestic help or construction workers. In the case of girls, many end up as prostitutes; a few might land a job as a maid in a wealthy family.
On average, boys and girls working as domestic help earn 12,000 rupees (US$ 220) a month; young prostitutes can earn up to 80,000 rupees (US$ 1,500).
For Fr Arul Dass, professor at Kolkata's Morning Star College, all this is "disturbing".
"The government should take serious measures to curb the problem," he said. "All children should find a safe refuge where they can grow up as responsible citizens. This is their right. Government and society at large should intervene."