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World’s biggest religious festival stepped up anti-trafficking efforts

April 2, 2019

The Kumbh Mela in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state is the world’s biggest religious festival. During the event, as many as 150 million people visit the festival city of Prayagraj to bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati, from Jan. 15 to March 31.

Last winter, camps to protect children from human traffickers were set up for the first time during the festival. Religious congregations are an integral part of Indian culture, yet they are becoming dangerous places for children and thousands are reported missing each year

“In the melee, it is very easy for a child to just disappear,” said Subedar Singh, a campaigner with Freedom Fund partner Pragati Gramodyog Evam Samaj Kalyan Sansthan (PGS) in an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Thousands of children, particularly girls between 12-15 years old, are left behind by their families to take care of the elderly, who spend up to a month here. These girls are always at risk.”

PGS and a group of volunteers helped set up seven camps to keep track of children who travel with their families to attend the eight-week festival.

“We have consistently seen that during these events, there is a noticeable spike in the number of children reported missing,” said Smita Dharmamer of Aangan Trust, another Freedom Fund partner. “And while we say missing, the fact is that there are organized groups at work and the children are trafficked.”

Practices to protect children that were first developed by Aangan Trust and used in two separate religious fairs in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in 2018 have now become the template at the Kumbh Mela. At the seven booths, housed near the temporary ashrams where pilgrims stay, a database of all children visiting the event was maintained.

The police also for the first time set up a fully computerised network to track children with 14 booths spread across the enormous venue.

Read more about the Kumbh Mela festival in this Thomson Reuters Foundation article

Photo credit: Michael T Balonek / WikiCommons

Working with frontline organisations, the Freedom Fund helps communities build resistance to trafficking and slavery and reintegrate individuals coming out of situations of exploitation. Find out more about the Freedom Fund’s northern India hotspot.

Written by
The Freedom Fund