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Little Flesh Shops

In the dark backalleys of Cyberland, the tribal girl is born with a price-tag

Little Flesh Shops
P. Anil Kumar
Little Flesh Shops
Once the cover was blown, what came to light was like a macabre footnote to free market economics. The grisly trail of child trafficking in Andhra Pradesh, packaged under the pious label of adoption, saw skeletons tumbling out by the dozen. The latest link in the chain is Anita Sen, wife of additional dgp (recruitment) Swaranjit Sen, who runs an unlicensed adoption agency by the name of Precious Moments. Another organisation identified in the string of revelations since last week is the officious-sounding Indian Council for Social Work (icsw). The key figure here is Roda Mistry, former Congress minister for women and child welfare, who sourced children for 'adoption' from Sen's agency.

In a raid late last week, the Central Adoption Resource Agency (cara) rescued 58 children from Precious Moments. With this, the total number of infants and children—in fact, exclusively girl children—rescued from adoption homes in Hyderabad and Tandur in the neighbouring Rangareddy district has increased to 172. All the children have been sent to Shishu Vihar, an agency run by the state government's Women and Child Welfare Department (wcwd).

The whole thing started with the arrest of a broker who procured infants and young girls from the tribal hamlets of Gulbarga in Karnataka for the John Abraham Bethany Memorial Home in Tandur. According to police sources, the racket in selling infant girls has been flourishing for a long time now. The modus operandi is simple. Agents scout the impoverished Lambada and Banjara tribes for infant girls. These tribes apparently believe a girl child brings bad luck to her parents and are only too willing to part with the infant for as little as Rs 1,000. The agent, after factoring in his cut and money paid as bribe to the police, sells the child for Rs 5,000 to adoption agencies. These children find ready buyers in nris and foreigners who will pay up anywhere between $1,000 and $2,500 per child. The racket is so well-oiled that a few agencies even have video clips and brochures on each child which prospective parents can access after paying $100. Once a child is selected, the agencies process the papers in double quick time and the child is sold. Police investigations reveal that many agencies do not even have valid documents to prove the child had been handed over by its parents of their own free will.

Till the scam blew up in the state assembly last fortnight, the police was taking it lightly. Two years ago, the police had raided two orphanages in Hyderabad—The Good Samaritan Evangelical and Welfare Association (gsewa) and the Action for Social Development (asd). Peter Subbaiah of gsewa and N. Sanjeeva Rao of asd were arrested and their licences cancelled. But Rao was out soon and, reviving his 'ngo', went back to business. Arrested again last fortnight for the same crime, Rao is currently in judicial custody.

Shalini Mishra, wcwd director, says the government is committed to curb the menace and that awareness campaigns in the light of the latest expose have sensitised people to the issue. But activists working with the tribals are sceptical about the crackdown. Says Ramulu Naik, president of Banjara Bheri: "This is nothing but a cosmetic exercise. Chandrababu Naidu's government has deliberately turned a blind eye to the nefarious activities of these agencies."

Critics have reason to be pessimistic. There are guidelines, drawn up by cara, to ensure that adoption is pursued as a welfare measure, not as a commercial activity. But these squarely put the onus of periodic inspections of adoption agencies on the state government. And judging from the facts that have now come out, this responsibility was borne pretty lightly. A senior member of one of the agencies was revealed to have a personal account worth Rs 45 lakh in a Hyderabad bank. "All this under the guise of social welfare!" says a police official.

Welfare, in fact, is even now being bandied about by the agencies as their goal. Many of them claim, with a touch of cynicism, that they do provide a 'better life' for the children. Clearly, until the underlying social and economic factors are addressed, better policing by itself may not suffice.

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