By John Malhotra
North east India has a high concentration of Christians, but there are fears that this fact is being exploited by criminals disguising themselves as missionaries and evangelists in order to traffic children.
Last month, over 70 such malnourished children from Manipur, Nagaland, and other north eastern states were rescued from a home at Kuzhithurai in Kanyakumari district.
Families, particularly in Manipur, are reportedly sending their children off into the hands of traffickers who promise to give them an education or employment, as highlighted recently by the Times of India.
It is believed that the children, aged from around six to 15, are being taken to unregistered children’s homes where they are kept in poor conditions and made to do menial work such as cooking and laundry.
There have been reports of children dying in suspicious circumstances and of others being molested and abused.
“These institutions exploit religion to make money. With many of them not registered with the government, the homes escape scrutiny,”said Vidya Reddy of the Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse in Tulir, according to the Times of India.
In light of the reports, the Church has become concerned for the welfare of children.
“This trend is shocking and deplorable,” said Dr. Hrangthan Chhungi, theologian and Secretary of Commission on Adivasis/Tribals in the National Council of Churches in India.
“It is indeed very ruinous and gross that religion is used for the trafficking business,” she said. “Taking the name of Christianity, they lure gullible Christians, specially the parents of poor families or guardians of homeless children and make it a thriving business.”
In explaining why Manipur is an easy target, Chhungi noted how the Kuki people in that state are one of the most victimized tribes in inter-tribe conflicts. These conflicts and killings have rendered children without parents in recent years.
“This sorry situation is taken advantage and made a business by vested interests,” she stated.
Knowing this, the National Council of Churches in India plans to hold a symposium to raise awareness of child trafficking among churches and NGOs.
The ecumenical organization of Protestant and Orthodox churches in India presently represents 13 million Christian people through out the country and includes groups such as National Council of YMCAs, YWCA of India, Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), and Bible Society of India (BSI).
In total, NCCI is made up of twenty-nine member churches , fourteen regional councils, fourteen all-India organizations and seven related agencies.