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‘Sale’ of Covid orphans triggers verification of 6,000 NGOs in Kashmir

Representative image. In Jammu and Kashmir, authorities have initiated verification and fresh registration of non-governmental agencies after a case of human trafficking of Covid orphans surfaced in the valley (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@mediaindiagroup)

In the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, authorities have initiated verification and fresh registration of around 6,000 non-governmental agencies after a case of human trafficking surfaced in the valley. At least two Covid orphans were found to have been ‘sold’ by an NGO, leading to registration of FIR against the group and arrest of two persons allegedly involved in the human trafficking.

Officials said that an investigation was launched by the Police, one FIR registered and two persons of Sambora, Pampore, arrested after it was reported in the national media that some individuals had indulged in offering young Covid orphans for adoption against monetary considerations by some individuals outside Jammu and Kashmir. A collective of clergymen issued an appeal for a “sustained campaign” against trafficking of the young Kashmiri children whose parents had died due to the pandemic in the last 20 months.

According to the officials, the Police Station of Pampore received a written application from Chairperson of Child Welfare Committee (CWC) District Pulwama for registration of FIR in the instant case. FIR No: 153 of 2021 was filed on Wednesday and the accused— Mohammad Amin Rather of Bemina and Aijaz Ahmed Dar of Pampore—were arrested after preliminary verification. They were found running a ‘trust’ by the title of Global Welfare Charitable Trust. It was immediately sealed and its documents and records were seized.

According to reports, the ‘trust’ functionaries were offering new born babies, collected from different places including hospitals, for adoption and they were up for sale in some ‘Indian markets. Officials said that a detained investigation was in progress.

Following communication from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and some other organisations, the Lieutenant Governor’s administration held high level meetings and ordered extensive verification and fresh registration of all the 6,000 NGOs registered with the Government. Chief Secretary, Dr Arun Kumar Mehta presided over a high- level meeting to review the progress made in nabbing the culprits involved in the case involving alleged adoption and sale of Covid orphans in Pampore.

Principal Secretary Home, Shaleen Kabra, Special Director General, CID, Rashmi Ranjan Swain, Commissioner-Secretary Social Welfare, Sheetal Nanda, besides the Divisional Commissioners of Kashmir and Jammu, DIG Central Kashmir, a representative of Law Department and other senior officers participated in the meeting. DIG Central Kashmir revealed that the accused had been arrested and a thorough investigation headed by a Deputy Superintendent of Police was underway. He said that the investigation would be completed in a week’s time.

The Chief Secretary stated that the trafficking of children and women was an inhuman and absolutely unacceptable practice. He asserted that nothing short of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and forced labour would stop such grave social crimes. According to him, narco/drug dimension and linkages to terrorism had been established in most of the cases of human trafficking in J&K.

The Chief Secretary ordered the establishment of joint teams of social welfare department, education department, magistrates from DC office and Police to verify the records of nari ashrams, bal ashrams, concerned NGOs, trusts and orphanages. He asked the social welfare department to coordinate a synergised departmental response in the matter. Secretary Social Welfare informed that the matter has been taken up with IGP Kashmir to ensure immediate legal action under relevant laws.

Child Welfare Committees have been asked to meet the Covid orphans and submit a report to the department. The Chief Secretary ordered an audit of human resources and accounts of all centres for the last 5 years. On his direction, Secretary Social Welfare obtained reports about welfare of the Covid orphans from all the 20 districts and submitted the same to the Chief Secretary by Thursday evening. The Home Department got all the centres inspected by the nearest Police Stations and submitted a report to the Chief Secretary.

The Registrar of Societies reported that the verification and fresh registration process of all NGOs was already underway even as only 1,000 of the previously registered 6,000 NGOs/Trusts had come forward and completed the formalities for fresh registration. The Chief Secretary directed completion of this process within one month. He said that failure in fresh registration within 15 days should make such trusts and NGOs ineligible for operation and registration. He also directed the Social Welfare Department to take steps in consultation with the Health Department to verify all the children’s hospitals/gynaecological sections/ neonatal sections of the hospitals in the UT within the next 15 days. He asked the Law Department to seek details of the trusts operating in the space for the last 10 years from the judiciary for the purpose of their verification.

The Chief Secretary laid emphasis on tracking cases of child/women trafficking in the cyber domain and asked the Home Department to ensure proper cyber surveillance through anti-trafficking units of the Police in both the divisions.

Asserting that begging and trafficking syndicates could not be allowed to have a free run in J&K, he directed maintenance of special watch on placement agencies, organisations scouting young girls and boys for talent hunt programmes, beauty pageants, escort services etc. so as to ensure that incidents of child and women trafficking did not happen in future.

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