India’s state government and coordinating charities have initiated a number of measures to prevent children in school being pushed into early marriage or lured by human trafficking groups.
One school, Ramgarhat High School in West Bengal, took part in an initiative run by police officials, who introduced a letter box in a discreet corner of the school.
Students could post anonymous “secrets” and ask questions or for help, which alerted authorities to potential instances of child marriage or trafficking and enabled a campaign to be gradually built to stop it from happening.
It is part of a wider programme by the West Bengal police which has now reached over 20,000 students from 200 schools in the most vulnerable state districts.
It started in 2016 when plain clothes police officers made school visits in South 24 and North 24 Parganas districts, which have been identified as trafficking hotspots, and spoke to students.
Non-profit organisation banglanatak.com initially helped the police reach students, engaging reluctant adolescents with the game Share Your Secret to start the flow of information.
Police have also set up committees in schools as part of the programme, to educate students on trafficking traps, encouraging students to come forward if a classmate has missed school for consecutive days or if a stranger is seen hanging around the route to school.
The programme has seen results, with female students especially becoming more alert and a number of arrests have been carried out.
UNICEF has now partnered with the initiative to expand its scope across the state.
Plans are also in place to create a database of known traffickers.
The initiative has been praised for bringing together students, parents, teachers and law enforcement on the same platform to tackle the widespread issue.
In 2016, West Bengal accounted for 44% of the reported cases of human trafficking in India, as well as having the highest number of missing children reports, according to government data.
Young girls from poor families in the state are lured by promises of jobs or marriage, then trafficked to cities and sold to brothels or into domestic slavery, or even abandoned on the streets.
Read More: Helen Jones MBE, Director of Youth Affairs and Education Programmes at The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS), explores the role of education in preventing child marriage and highlights the part played by the RCS and its partners in building momentum to get the issue onto the agenda of the formal Commonwealth