The Victim Assistance (VA) programme is the flagship programme of BBA which functions as a comprehensive model of child protection from trafficking and forced labour through identification, rescue, legal and rehabilitation support to the rescued children. BBA began its activities with this programme, which gradually evolved and acquired its current structure and size. This intervention in 1980 started with the rescue of a minor girl from bonded labour from a brick-kiln in Punjab who was about to be sold into prostitution in Mumbai. From the rescue of that girl, BBA began its journey and till now has rescued and rehabilitated more than 1,00,000 children from trafficking and forced labour. The learnings and experience gained from the programme have contributed immensely in reforming and reshaping the legal and institutional mechanism of child protection in the country. The Victim Assistance Programme works in line with the BBA’s mission to identify, release, rehabilitate and educate children in servitude. This is done through prevention, direct interventions, legal action, coalition building and community based interventions for rehabilitation. The Victim Assistance Programme involves the following five broad processes:
BBA’s rescue process is thoroughly researched with intensive and extensive preparation. It is conducted in accordance with legal requirements as part of collective action with specific government agencies. The process often involves physical risks to BBA activists. There have been cases where the activists have been subjected to violent attacks while trying to rescue children. However, they have continued undeterred in their commitment towards the protection of children.
Identifications are done by BBA’s intelligence network on the ground and information regarding child rights violations is also gathered through complaints received from individuals, parents, victims, partner NGOs and informer networks. The team gathers information about the demographics of the community, industry, the approximate number of child labourers and the type of work they are engaged, along with other details to do a risk analysis. Furthermore, BBA has recently introduced GIS-based technology to accurately locate and record child labour through smartphones. This has led to greater reliability in rescue operations. Upon successful verification of the information gathered from various sources, complaints are filed with the concerned Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) to initiate action.
Based on the complaints filed, BBA along with LEAs plans for a rescue operation and conducts a raid on the identified localities/establishments. Support and partnership with local administration are sought before the operation, which is an important aspect of this intervention, to avoid any violation of the law. Thereafter, the identified victims are removed in a raid led by the District Magistrate and other government authorities. BBA ensures that at this stage the children are safely extradited from the site and are placed in a safe environment (Child Care Institution) as per the orders of Child Welfare Committee (CWC), a statutory body. During the rescue, LEAs also initiate actions against errant traffickers/employers for sanction of economic recovery and take other punitive measures as per the law to deter the exploitation of children.
Post rescue, the children are placed under Child Care Institutions (CCI) on the order of the CWC wherein their safety and protection is ensured. Children are sent to either Mukti Ashram (BBA’s short term rehabilitation centre) or CCIs run by the government and other NGOs for short-term rehabilitation.
MUKTI ASHRAM- SHORT TERM REHABILITATION CENTRE FOR BOYS:
To provide immediate care and protection to the rescued children, BBA has established a short-term rehabilitation home in Delhi called “Mukti Ashram”.During their stay, children are provided with food, clothing, legal assistance, medical care, psychological support & learning and recreational opportunities. The children are also supported in post-rescue processes like production before CWC for repatriation, opening of bank accounts for receipt of back wages and compensations, issuance of Release Certificates etc. Following the rules of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015, Ashram forms Children’s Committees to involve them in certain activities. The Children’s Committees are formed through elections and children are encouraged to make their manifesto and build consensus with peers. The children’s committee makes decisions along with the staff regarding the day-to-day functioning of the Ashram, thus building in them a sense of responsibility and leadership skills. The duration of children’s stay depends on the completion of the legal formalities, ranging from 2-6 weeks.
BAL ASHRAM: LONG TERM REHABILITATION CENTRE FOR BOYS:
The repatriation process for most rescued children is completed from Mukti Ashram and they are reunited with their families, as per CWC guidelines. However, in cases where the children are found to be orphans or their parents cannot be located/ contacted, they are sent to Bal Ashram- a long term rehabilitation centre of BBA (based in Rajasthan) on the orders of CWC. Moreover, many a time during the follow-up process, cases are found wherein parents are not capable of taking care of their children and they too are brought to Bal Ashram to prevent further re- trafficking.
The children of Bal Ashram are mainstreamed with education and vocational training. Most of the children are enrolled in nearby public schools. Younger children attend literacy and numeracy classes while children over 14 are given vocational training in computers, tailoring, carpentry, electrical and welding skills, as well as social and environmental education.
 Release Certificate is issued by the district administration for declaring a child as a bonded labourer, making the withdrawn child and his/her family eligible to receive statutory compensation under Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers, 2016 and other welfare schemes.
In order to create legal and economic deterrence, BBA ensures that each child’s case is represented in the court and trials are initiated in the court against the employers/traffickers. One of the first step towards ensuring prosecution is registration of First Information Report (FIR) against the employers/traffickers under the relevant sections of the law and time-bound filing of charge sheets. BBA’s legal team supports the children and family during the period of trial while also ensuring their recovery of back wages and other statutory compensations.
BBA believes that rescue is only half the work done. It is important to ensure that the children remain safe and healthy, recover from the trauma they have experienced, go to school and stay protected from re-trafficking after they go back home.
The process starts with children getting reunited with their families. BBA continues to keep in touch with them through direct visits or phone calls. The community workers visit children at their homes and initiate the process to ensure they receive their compensations and continue their education. Family empowerment is an integral part of the rehabilitation process therefore all efforts are made to strengthen families by improving their access to the social security schemes of the government for employment guarantee, housing, food security, medical facilities with the help of the Panchayats and the District Magistrates.
BBA also believes that creating a safe space and rehabilitating the rescued children is everyone’s responsibility. To ensure holistic and effective rehabilitation children’s participation must be at the heart of the engagement process. Therefore BBA creates groups of children and of adults (Children’s Groups and People’s Vigilance Committees) for the community-based vigilance mechanism. The groups are empowered with knowledge and tools to protect the children of the community, to address issues related to children, identify threats, report unsafe situations and systematically attack an age-old practice of exploitation of children. These groups help in bridging the gap between the community and the village level child protection mechanisms, making them more accountable.