Life had become hell for Sugna Kumari four years ago as the 15-year-old girl from a remote village in Rajasthan had to work in a Bt cotton field in Gujarat through the day and forced to have sex in the night.
The plight of Damini, 16, was no better. She was often beaten for not agreeing to having sex with the middleman who duped her and brought to the neighbouring state.
These are not just one-off stories of bonded labourers, the two tribal girls of Rajasthan being victims of a larger racket in which more than 1,00,000 children were being trafficked from Udaipur district and its neighbouring areas to south Gujarat to pick Bt cotton which needs nimble fingers.
"Some men told me that they will give me lot of money for the work. A big car came to my village that night and took me and my friends to Gujarat," says Sugna.
"But things were totally different there. We were forced to work the whole day and kept in a small tent near the field with some 20 inmates including boys. They even forced us to have sex and those who opposed were beaten up," she recalls.
"Like these children, there were many girls who had to go through this misery in Gujarat every year and the condition for boys there was not smoother either," Dola Mohapatra, executive director of ChildFund-India, which is working in rescuing and rehabilitation of such children in the region, told PTI.
"They had to wake up early in the morning and work in muddy fields laced with pesticides. Moreover, they had to suffer verbal and physically abuse if they falter in their work."
Acknowledging the efforts of NGOs, Vijaya Laxmi Chouhan, chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of Rajasthan government, says, "Due of their commitment for the cause, there has been a huge improvement in the situation on the ground.
"Trafficking has declined significantly, but still there is a lot to be done for these children who have lost their golden childhood."
RS Dhakar, a member of CIC, Udaipur, explains that the geographic condition of the region plays an important role in fuelling child trafficking.
"The families don't have any alternative earning sources. Thus, many parents are forcing their children to go to work and many fall in the trap of the traffickers," he points out.
Mohapatra concurs and says, "To weed this out, one has to work both at the source and the demand point. We are not just taking care of the child's overall development, we also help improve their family's livelihood opportunities, as well as mobilising villagers to understand and solve the problem at the community levels."
CR Joy, senior coordinator of ChildFund who looks after the the project in Udaipur district, says they have seen that peer awareness helps in combating the menace.
"Young children, especially those who have gone through all this, tell others how the grass on the other side is not as green as it seems," he says.
"During the harvesting season, we patrol through the night. Whenever we find any clue about any party we inform to the NGO officials who then take help of the police to save the children," says Nagraj, 14, who heads a child club in his village Gajbi in Jhadol block.
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