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Sarana Balyam project in Kerala faces prolonged delays as child begging crisis escalates

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Sarana Balyam project in Kerala faces prolonged delays as child begging crisis escalates
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Young woman begging in front of a city hotel with a baby in her lap among sacks of onions

Thiruvananthapuram: The Sarana Balyam scheme, implemented by the Kerala state government to prevent child labour and child begging, has been dragging on for a long time. The Kerala Women and Child Development Department began an action plan in four districts in December 2017 that was later expanded to all districts.

After it was noticed that children from other states were being brought to pilgrimage centres and crowded places for begging and child labour, the scheme was implemented.

A special squad was formed under the District Child Protection Unit's leadership. In addition, the child rescue teams decided to check the DNA of the children found in the mysterious situation to ensure that their parents were present.

Formerly, those caught were released after their Aadhaar cards were checked. It was later discovered that the child begging mafia obtained these Aadhaar cards by providing false information.

But in 2021, the High Court directed the release of two boys who were taken into the custody of the Child Welfare Committee for child begging. Two families from Rajasthan approached the High Court that day. The High Court observed that under the Juvenile Justice Act, the welfare of children should be considered. It is in this context that children are being sent away with those who claim to be their parents, said an unnamed employee of the District Child Protection Unit.

Last day, the squad had arrested two children selling saffron and two women who were begging with their babies in Thiruvananthapuram. All the ten children who were found in this way were first taken to childcare centres but later released.

Child Welfare Committee Chairperson Shaniba Begum told 'Madhyamyam' that the children were released because they showed their Aadhaar cards. In effect, they are back on the streets again.

The state government implemented the scheme after it was found that children from the states of Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu were being brought to sell toys and bangles during the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

This scheme was spread across the state. According to government figures, 565 children have been helped by the Sarana Balayam scheme from November 2018 to November 2021. However, as many children have come to the state post-Covid.

Many children do begging and child labour at signals, under bridges, bus stands, railway station premises, and near places of worship. Many girls are subjected to sexual exploitation as they live in places with insufficient security.

The State Women and Child Development Department had also implemented a scheme of giving a reward of Rs 2,500 to anyone reporting child labour or child exploitation.

In 2020, the Saranabalayam project was recognized as an innovative project by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and selected for the Innovation Grant.

Aiming at child protection in 2023, the Department of Women and Child Welfare has introduced the mobile application 'Kunjhap' (which means kid app) as part of the Integrated Child Protection Project. If you see children in difficult situations, you can report them immediately, and online violence can also be reported through the app.

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TAGS:Kerala governmentSarana Balyam projectChild Welfare Committee Chairperson
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