An Uttar Pradesh man trekked 500km to Nepal to free his three children from human traffickers, disguising himself as a beggar, working at a dhaba, cleaning vehicles and toiling at a brick kiln on the way to outwit the gang.
Jagram, a shop owner in Bahraich district's Turaini Rajab Kudiya village, finally found his sons being held as bonded labourers with 100 other children at a brick-making unit near Kathmandu in August. Jagram said the children were working under the most inhuman conditions, slaving from 3am to 5pm every day without rest and with just two meals.
Thousands of children are trafficked in India every year for domestic servitude or to work for a pittance in sweatshop-like conditions in hazardous fireworks factories and coal mines apart from the carpet-weaving and silk-manufacturing industries.
The problem was brought into focus last week when child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize. Satyarthi, who has been fighting child trafficking and child labour for decades, estimated about 60 million children in India, or 6% of the population, are forced into work.
Jagram's journey to find his sons wasn't easy. He mortgaged his farmland and set off for Nepal in July on a tip from an NGO.
Twenty days later, Jagram found his boys at the brick kiln, transporting soil and fetching water from a nearby lake. The whole area was well fortified and escape seemed hopeless.
But Jagram was determined. To get closer to his sons, he took up work as a labourer at the factory where he found four more children from his village. He asked them not to reveal his identity and to wait for the right moment to escape.
One night when security eased, Jagram took off with the seven children, but they barely made it to the neighbouring highway when security guards raised an alarm.
The group hid under piles of sand in a paddy field and took a bus next morning to Nepalganj - that shares a border with Bahraich - unaware that they were stepping into a trap.
The traffickers caught them at the Nepalganj bus station, took them to a secluded place and thrashed the victims mercilessly.
Jagram pleaded, saying he would return to his village and they could take the children. On being freed, he approached local police who raided the factory and took the owner and an aide into custody.
Nepal police alerted their counterparts in UP and NGO Childline. The children were escorted to the international border and handed over to UP police who sent them home.
"I dreamt of educating my children and giving them a better life. When flood ravaged my village in 2013, I moved to Lucknow and worked at a construction site while my wife and the three children stayed in the village. I returned on hearing that my sons had gone missing," said Jagram.
Jagram now runs a shop in his village while his sons - Amrit Lal, 15, Nakshed, 13, and Akhilesh, 10 - are in school.
Jitendra Chaturvedi, a member of Childline who also manages the NGO Developmental Association for Human Advancement (Dehat) near the Indo-Nepal border, said the two countries should join hands to check child trafficking and strict action is needed against those involved in such inhuman practices.