India too separates children from parents - they’re Bangladeshis

Prothom Alo English Desk | Update:

A Bangladeshi woman weeps while holding children in the no-mans-land between India and Bangladesh at the Satcachi border crossing, near Coochbehar, some 650 kms north of Kolkata. -- AFPAn Indian media outlet has published a report with the title “Not just Trump: India has separated Bangladeshi children from their parents for years”.

Scroll.in said in West Bengal, the detained Bangladesh immigrants are sent to prisons while their children are kept in shelter homes.

The report has referred to Sneha, a shelter home run by the non-profit organisation Sanlaap, where there are Bangladeshi girls who have been detained by Indian authorities for not possessing the necessary documents.

“The girls have been sent to stay here, until the Bangladesh authorities trace their families and take them back,” Scroll.in said.

While it requires a long process for their repatriation, parents of some of the girls have also been detained and imprisoned by Indian authorities, the report pointed out.

The news site runs the report at a time when the news stories of separation of 2,000 immigrant children from their families that were trying to enter the US through Mexico border this year have sparked outrage.

“But India has followed a similar policy for years, which has resulted in the separation of countless Bangladeshi families,” the report observed.

In reference to India’s Foreigners Act, 1946, the report mentioned that any foreigner entering India or staying in India without the necessary documents can be jailed for a minimum of two years and up to a maximum of eight.

The report elaborated that when immigrant families are detained, the parents are arrested and sent to judicial custody, while children above the age of six are presented before a Child Welfare Committee and the Juvenile Justice Board, before being sent to a shelter home away from the parents.

There are about 80 such shelter homes in West Bengal - separate ones for girls and boys, the Scroll report added.

The report named Sucharita Sengupta of the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, who documented several such cases in a study published in 2015.

However, West Bengal authorities reportedly claimed that the separation of families is handled sensitively.

According to the report, the authorities at Sneha echoed this view. “When parents are in jail, we take the kids with us to meet them,” Mamata Chakraborty, the superintendent of minor girls, was quoted to have said. “Sometimes parents have been sent back to Bangladesh, and they come here with proper papers to meet the kids. The mother and father know where their children are.”

The report also quoted activists as saying that it is disturbing that often parents are repatriated to Bangladesh while the children continue to languish in India.

Mohidul Islam, a social worker who helps counsel Bangladeshi nationals detained in the border areas, reportedly recalled an incident involving about 20 Rohingya Muslims who had entered West Bengal through Bangladesh and were detained at the border two years ago.

In the case of one family, “the mother was charged under 14A Foreigners Act and went to Dumdum jail,” he was quoted to have said, “While the son and daughter were sent to separate homes.”

Once separated, the parents and the child are treated as individual cases, each of which is heard by a different court, according to the report.

Often, it said, the parents are repatriated first. Until recently, they were sent back to Bangladesh through the risky “push back” system, in which immigrants are literally pushed back across the border into their homeland.

Meanwhile, the report added, the children are left behind in shelter homes.

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