“Women and children go to the forest to relieve themselves due to the lack of toilet facilities, making them vulnerable to… rape, abuse or abducted.”

As I dodged muddy puddles, the hosts to multiple swarms of carrier mosquitoes, my trembling steps led me into Shahbad Dairy, New Delhi’s distant neglected baby. Turning glares and examining stares welcomed me as the locals realised an alien presence in their space. Having people who did not belong to their little world is a rare sight for them as the area remains untouched of intervention, barring the election time. My journey led to new revelations and questions about the parallel life that exists in India.

Only a few kilometres away from the heart of the Indian capital, Shahbad Dairy is mostly inhabited by migrants and has witnessed a sharp rise in the number of crimes related to children’s protection in the past few years. Until a few years ago, the area did not have any toilets, let alone the possibility of their functioning to cater to a population of nearly 150,000 citizens.

There were a total of 12 toilets, out of which only seven functioned. These seven toilets are found in deplorable conditions, locked for most part of the day, are home to breeding diseases.

Disturbingly enough, these toilets are also being used by men as gambling and poker hubs, where substance abuse is a daily affair. These act as repellents for children who fear exploitation and abuse by these men.

In Shahbad Dairy, women and children go to the nearby forest to relieve themselves due to the lack of toilet facilities, making them vulnerable to crime. A majority of these children are raped, teased, abused or abducted during their visits to the forest. A shocking revelation was made by an old lady who confided that some families choose not to feed their children after dusk to avoid letting the children out at night to defecate.

Education in the Shahbad Dairy

“What’s your name?” I asked a little one who had been contemplating my activities with eagerness.

“Sameer, class second,” he replied instinctively.

Education, something often taken for granted in the other parts of the city, seems to form a part of a child’s identity in Shahbad Dairy. In an area where daily wage labour is the common occupation of people, education is no less than a privilege made available to the new generation via the Right to Education Act.

Anxiety among parents

Santosh, a mother of five who still grieves the abduction of her daughter a few months back, spoke to the IPF about life as a parent in the region.

“We only let our children go to school in the day. The fear of losing them looms on us every time I let them out of my sight.”

She explained that the safety of children in India is the reason behind every parent’s anxiety. Most parents do not let children out of the houses due to the fear of losing them. Having to spend one’s childhood behind closed doors not only restricts the essential co-curricular activities and creativity of the child, but also psychologically cripples them.

Simran, a little girl of three-year-old, had recently given her parents the joy of her first confident steps. But one night, while her family was asleep, she walked out of her house in search of a place to relieve herself. Unaware, Simran looked at the best opportunity and sat on the edge of a road. Before she could realise what was happening she was hit and run over by a car. This is only one of many disturbing cases that echo the need for safe and accessible toilets in Shahbad Dairy.

Due to lack of awareness many young children do not realise what constitutes rape or sexual abuse and become silent victims.

If abducted, they are transported and trafficked to places and pushed into labour or prostitution. News travels fast and cases of kidnappings and sexual exploitation have curbed speech and mobility amongst children throughout the country.

The need for government intervention

The lack of government and police action, along with widespread illiteracy, means the utilisation of other administrative services in places like Shahbad Dairy remains a challenge.

Despite these crimes perpetuating for nearly six years, police apathy prevents safe reporting and patrolling to control it.

It was only after 2013 when lodging an FIR was made mandatory that the locals experienced initial support from the police. Santlal, head of Saksham, a local NGO supported by Child Rights and You, reported that most government schemes cannot be availed in areas like Shahbad Dairy.  According to an RTI report, approximately 171 children since 2013 have been reported missing, out of which only about 105 have come back.

The government’s neglect acts as an incentive for the guilty to fearlessly practice and promote these crimes.

India’s missing children

The number of missing children in India is increasing at an alarming rate. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs data, the number of untraced children increased by a shocking 84% in the the three years between 2013 to 2015. The total number of untraced children in 2015 was 62,988, compared with 34,244 in 2013.

Estimates indicate that an average of 180 children go missing every day in India.

In order to combat these issues on a personal level, the people have taken responsibility to ensure child safety themselves. However, despite child rights group, such as CRY, continuing to raise awareness, the trend of these crimes seems undisturbed. Substance abuse continues to pose as a challenge as not only do the criminals feed off these illegal undertakings, but their popularisation amongst the youth is also pushing young adults into the habit. As a result, young children pay the cost through their lives.

The subjection to the worst of child rights’ violations at a tender age is infuriating. Furthermore, having these violations stem from the lack of a basic amenity such as toilets emphasises the need for immediate action in rural India. Our youth, who were once made to believe were special children of God, are falling prey to monstrous deeds of humans.