IMPACT

Trafficking Hotline Aims To Rescue Thousands Of Kids Who Disappear In South Asia

There are no accurate figures, but many women and children are sold into child marriage or bonded labor.
NEW DELHI, INDIA NOVEMBER 22: Children take part in a candle light vigil to end child slavery oragnized by NGO Bachpan Bachao
NEW DELHI, INDIA NOVEMBER 22: Children take part in a candle light vigil to end child slavery oragnized by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan at Jantar Mantar on November 22, 2014 in New Delhi, India. Terming slavery and child trafficking the biggest scandal of our times, Indian Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi launched a new campaign to end the menace posed by the trafficking mafia. (Photo by Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI, May 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - South Asian nations will set up a toll-free helpline and online platform to fight human trafficking, one of the region's biggest problems, and trace the thousands of children who go missing in the region annually, India's government said late on Wednesday.

Ministers from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal came to the agreement after a conference on child protection held under the auspices of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

South Asia, with India at its centre, is the fastest-growing and second-largest region for human trafficking in the world, after East Asia, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime.

India's women and child development ministry said delegates from the eight South Asian countries adopted a series of measures to boost cooperation to end child exploitation.

The children of Indian sex workers look on as they participate in a rally at the Sonagachi area of Kolkata on November 8, 201
The children of Indian sex workers look on as they participate in a rally at the Sonagachi area of Kolkata on November 8, 2014. Hundreds of sex workers with their children and family members participated in the rally to demand better legal protection of sex workers, claiming that better laws will reduce human trafficking and exploitation. AFP PHOTO/Dibyangshu SARKAR (Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

"(These include) regional cross sharing and programming on ICT initiatives to trace missing children, working towards establishing a uniform toll free helpline, developing a regional strategy and common standards for addressing all forms of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking," it said in a statement.

There are no accurate figures on the number of people being trafficked within South Asia, but activists say thousands of mostly women and children are trafficked within India and as well as from its poorer neighbours Nepal and Bangladesh.

Many are sold into forced marriage or bonded labour working in middle class homes as domestic servants, in small shops and hotels or confined to brothels where they are repeatedly raped.

SEX TOURISM, CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told delegates that curbing human trafficking was a major challenge for all nations, but that by sharing information and best practices, it was possible to develop regional solutions.

"With increasing access to information technology and changing nature of our globalised economy, new threats for children are emerging - sex tourism, child pornography, online threats to children among others," said Singh.

"To address these challenges comprehensively, within SAARC countries, we can all benefit from reinforcing regional cooperation and strengthening mechanisms for sharing of information, experience, expertise and good practices."

In India alone, government data shows 73,549 children went missing in 2014, of which 31,711 were not traced compared to 90,654 missing in 2011, of which 34,406 were not found.

India has over the years implemented a series of child protection measures, such as a national toll free helpline called Childline which receives millions of calls every year.

It has also launched a Track Child web portal for authorities to share information on missing children, and a "Lost and Found" portal for the public, where parents can register details of missing children and citizens can report sightings.

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla. Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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