Bengaluru: The Andhra Pradesh Police rescued 4,806 children in a Covid-19 drive of Operation Muskaan, a central government initiative to rescue children working as labour at factories and brick kilns.
The special project launched by the Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police, Gautam Sawang, was aimed at both rescuing children and reducing their risk of being exposed to coronavirus.
“Many of them lived in very small spaces, and it would have led to the spread of the virus. We have screened every single child who has been rescued,” said a senior police official associated with the operation.
Launched on 14 July, Operation Muskaan Covid-19 rescued children who were homeless, employed as bonded labour or were found begging on the streets during the pandemic. Of the total number of children rescued, 4,075 are boys and 731 are girls, between the ages of 4 to 15. Of them, 72 are from Odisha, Bihar and West Bengal. DGP Sawang told ThePrint the statewide rescue operation was based on credible information of children being exploited or left unattended.
“The lockdown and shutting down of industries forced many people to stop work. Children were also found to have been employed in several (of these) places and we launched Operation Muskaan Covid-19 specially to ensure the spread of the virus does not take place (among these vulnerable children),” said the senior police official. “The idea was to rescue all these children during Covid times especially so that their lives are saved from the virus and their exploiters,” he added.
The week-long drive that ended on 20 July was conducted under the larger Operation Muskaan that was launched by the Centre in 2015. The Andhra Pradesh Police has been implementing it in phases in the state.
Children reunited with families, cases filed against exploiters
In 2016, eight-year-old Srinivas boarded a train from his hometown in Palakollu in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. He could not bear to watch his mother working menial jobs, such as picking up garbage, to sustain their family after his father died, and thought that running away would ease the burden.
When he disembarked at Vijayawada station, he was spotted by the Vijayawada Police who rescued him and shifted him to a child care centre in the city. This was his home for the next four years.
Now, Srinivas has been reunited with his mother and has promised not to leave her again.
He is one of the 4,806 children rescued via Operation Muskaan Covid-19. The police said that 4,000 children have been handed over to their families, while the rest have been accommodated in state-run child care homes under government supervision until their parents can be contacted.
“It is very heartwarming to be able to facilitate the reunion of a mother and child after almost four years. Things like these give us immense satisfaction and keep us going. Each kid who has been rescued has a heart-wrenching story. It is to make this kind of difference in the lives of the vulnerable that this initiative was launched,” DGP Sawang told ThePrint.
Seven-year-old Bindu, who was found abandoned by her mother in Guntur, recalled how after her father’s death, her mother claimed she was going on a short trip and left her with the neighbours. The child was rescued under Operation Muskaan as her caretaker Sunitha feared that she may be exploited by anti-social elements. Bindu is now safe in a child care home in Guntur.
At least 10 young boys employed as bonded labour in Perecherla village in Guntur were also rescued during this drive. The children are from Bihar and were brought to the state by an agent after being sold by their parents.
“Action has also been taken against the exploiters,” said the senior official quoted above, who added that a total of 11 cases have been registered against violators and a 30-member inspection report has been submitted to the state government.
“Seven show cause notices have been issued. No person who is punishable under law will be exempted,” the official said.