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Reporters: Kailash Satyarthi is on a mission to end child slavery in India

France 24

A child disappears every eight minutes in India. In the capital New Delhi, six out of 10 children who go missing are never found. They are called the "lost generation": More than 200,000 children are still missing. It is estimated that 70% of them are kidnapped by gangs who then exploit them. Kailash Satyarthi, 64, and his teams are often their only hope. Over the past four decades the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has saved 87,000 children from a life of slavery.

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Between January 2012 and March 2017, the Indian authorities registered 250,000 children as missing. But according to activists, this figure represents only the tip of the iceberg – in many cases, families do not go to the authorities because they were fooled by "recruiters" who promised to send their children away to study.

Local police officers also lack training in dealing with kidnappings and coordination between the different law enforcement agencies across the vast country is insufficient.

This scourge is nothing new in India. Back in 1981, Kailash Satyarthi, an engineer by training, decided to organise his first operation: a raid on a textile workshop exploiting children. He decided to dedicate his life to the cause, earning a Nobel peace prize in 2014, an award he shared with girls' education activist Malala Yousafzai.

Today Satyarthi leads several NGOs, including Bachpan Bacho Andolan (BBA), which allowed us to film one of its raids from start to finish. It was a rare opportunity.

Reuniting families

These operations, carefully planned in cooperation with the police, are not without risk. Several members of Satyarthi's team have already been killed during the raids or have faced reprisals from gangs. The raid we filmed led to the release of 42 children. None of our team will forget the children’s faces when we entered the workshop. Some of them had not seen the light of day for weeks and were forced to work up to 16 hours a day.

Once the children have been rescued, the authorities try to identify them and find their parents. This process can take several months or even years. In India, many people do not have identity papers and some poorer families do not have any photographs of their children. But for the past few months, the police have been experimenting with a new facial recognition application. It is already making a difference: After only four days of use in May, more than 3,000 children were reunited with their families. Thanks to this software, one of the children we filmed during the raid, 12-year-old Ali, was able to find his family in Bihar, one of the poorest regions of India.

But some children will never find their families. Others, whose parents are too poor to look after them, prefer to leave them in the hands of the authorities or with charities. With them in mind, Satyarthi and his wife opened the Bal Ashram rehabilitation and training centre in Rajasthan 20 years ago. Its volunteers try to give confidence back to those who never thought they could make their voices heard in Indian society.

EM photos reporters India
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