Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nepal´s returned HIV positive women face sad plight

By Surya B. Prasai
February 15, 2008

In dusty Raxaul south of Kathmandu, on a pale, cold winter´s morning the plight of a young Nepali woman being trafficked to India for the commercial sex sector is just beginning to unfurl. Sarswoti, from Dhading district bordering Nepal´s capital, Kathamndu, has been brought here promised of a lucrative job by Tirtha Ram a middleman, who actually is her first cousin. He has lured her with promises of posh South Extension flat in New Delhi´s well to do neighborhood, and many of Sarswoti's friends and cousins have left for India earlier attracted by such promises. Tirtha´s narrated story to her parents is all too believable for Sarswoti, whose life all depends on her parent´s wishes as in most parts of Nepal where a woman has little individual rights particularly if she is uneducated. Tirtha has told them that that the Indian owner for whom Sarswati is going to work is in the Gulf region, she is going to be paid Rs. 3000 (US%5) for every month she has served. Sarswoti will get free accommodation, food, and be able to roam freely on weekends to go and watch the movies in the big eye catching Indian cosmopolitan city of New Delhi with new friends she will soon make once there. It is only when Sarswoti travels further south down the narrow dusty bus lane and reaches Gorakhpur she suddenly realizes that things are not as Tirtha Ram had promised. Tirtha has already left the day before making a clever alibi that he has to go and make a phone call to his wife in Nepal. Soon an unknown woman enters the small little dingy room she has been kept in. The woman tells Sarswoti that she is pretty, young, very fair and good looking. She is going to adopt her as her daughter; Tirtha has already gone back to the Indo-Nepalese border to get another group of women across to Gorakhpur.

At first this Indian ´guardian´ mother of Nepalese descent drugs Sarswoti and locks her up in a room for three days without food and only a sip of water. When Sarswoti protests, she starts cursing her, and soon physically punishing her. In a week´s time, Sarswoti is gang raped, intimidated with cigarettes, burning charcoal heaped on her arms and thighs, left hungry with bruises all over her body, with no one to complain to, in total misery and no one to help her out. Meanwhile her parents in Dhading seem all too happy with Tirtha for giving them Rs. 18,000 equivalent, or roughly US $280 for Sarswoti as a salary advancement.

From Nepal, anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 women have been trafficked this way to India to serve as commercial sex workers in like manner. The major conduits are the infamous Makwanpur alley, Birtamod in the Eastern Region and Nepalgunj in the Far Western region. The Nepali girls and young women aged between 12-29 years old are sold through Nepalese and Indian commercial sex agents finally ending up in the sex outlets in bigger Indian cities such as Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata involving nearly three to four middlemen like Tirtha Ram.

Most girls who are impoverished in poverty until the ages of 12-16 years are booked in advance by their parents for as little as US $200 to the agents, the prettier girls fetch between US $300-400 according to reports from independent Nepalese survey on child and women trafficking and organizations such as Asia Foundation and Human Rights Watch Asia which have stepped in the forefront of trying to stop the crime.

Usually, the girls are transported in a group of 10-15 across the porous border to the various Indian cities. This is happening every day as Ind0-Nepalese border is a porous one and has been serving child traffickers for nearly one a half decades now with few interruptions. Also, in the absence of a strong government in Kathmandu, due to the failing policies of the seven party coalitions that rules Nepal at present; even the gravest crime goes unpunished.

For more than a decade, some of Nepal´s top legal experts have been drawing the UN and the world´s attention to the child trafficking issue occurring between India and Nepal. Well known Nepalese legal eagles such as Dr. Shanta Thapaliya, Shambu Thapa (former Chairman of Nepal Bar Association), and Sapana Pradhan Malla who all are child rights advocates, Believe the Constitution of Nepal has guaranteed the right of equality to women including property and self-development rights, but offers very little practicing equality. Mr. Gauri Pradhan who has been running CWIM for more than three decades in Kathmandu, dedicated to Child Welfare and education of street children also is in agreement that child rights has been perhaps forgotten as core area of understanding in Nepalese human rights practice.

The Nepalese Constitution has also accorded childhood freedoms to every Nepali girl child since Nepal was one of the first countries to sign the Convention on the Rights of him Child, 1990, but the real achievement in realizing child rights in Nepal is next to nil, despite the claims of various international agencies. The truth, according to the Harvard educated Dr. Thapaliya. In a recent anti trafficking report appears to be that in Nepal women have long been discriminated upon when they are known to contribute to nearly 60% of the country´s Gross Development Product. The government has simply been turning a blind eye to the issue of women trafficking and child prostitution. Thus many legal voices in Nepal and also many powerful NGO leaders in India are now jointly trying to coordinate efforts and draw on the ethical argument that children should be given all the time until age 16 to enjoy their childhood freedoms, while the traffickers should be punished severely with imprisonment, not only meager fines.

Nepal, which had faced an internal civil conflict between 1986-2006, has seen a big stream of its children, particularly in Western Nepal, facing commercial exploitation through middle men in being transported to brothels in various Indian cities. Not only have these young girls ended up in Indian circuses and households as bonded servants, many have ended up working as life long commercial sex workers. Some graduate in a decade or two to become brothel owners themselves, employing between 7 to a dozen young Nepalese females in each commercial sex venue.

In 2007, various Indian and Nepalese estimates put the total number of Nepalese commercial sex workers in India at around 200,000 to 300,000, though this is considered a low estimate. Nearly half of the women in Mumbai, who ply commercial sex work totaling 120,000, are estimated to be Nepalese, a cording to various ILO estimates. The women are not only subjugated to various forms of torture, gang rape and different sexual acts, they face the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS openly.

According to recent available posted on BBC, HIV infection may have increased by more than 100 percent among Nepalese women and by 200 percent among children in the past 18 months. This has also been substantiated by several NGO officials working to bring relief to the Nepalese women in Mumbai and Bangalore. Nearly 18% of the customers also happen to be migrant Nepalese workers in India close to the cities who visit the brothels on weekends. The Nepalese government´s National Center for AIDS/STI Control publishes figures regularly on the number of HIV/AIDS case occurring in Nepal. But these figures are considered diminutive based on the actual number infected, particularly those forced to return to Nepal from Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata after contracting HIV/AIDS. For instance, the Nepal Government released figures that nearly 2200 housewives were infected with HIV in 2007, but the figure could be more as there is stigma and discrimination attached to revealing one´s HIV status in Nepalese society and this does not include the HIV/AIDS infected women who have been returned from Indian brothels. This is a serious problem that is also not reflected accurately in the various sentinel surveys on cross border sex trafficking between Nepal and India. The Nepalese government states that the number of children infected with HIV reached 428 from 138 in 2005, but the actual reality is, more than 2,500 known infections are recorded in various hospitals and clinics throughout Nepal in the same period.

The alarming fact is that among the Nepali women trafficked to India and forced into the sex trade, nearly 40 percent of them were HIV positive by the time they were repatriated, US researchers have verified. Human Rights Watch has published an explicit report outlining the plight of Nepalese women who have been trafficked to India and exploited for commercial sex work there and abroad. The main cause of this inhuman crime seems to be the impoverishment of Nepalese women which forces their parents to marry them off to middle agents or else to sell them off for the remaining families´ survival at an early age.

Another finding coming from a small study of 287 Nepalese women who found their way home after years of sex slavery in India's brothels, underscored the challenge facing public health authorities as they battled to contain India's HIV epidemic and prevent it from spreading throughout the region. Nearly 90% of them were infected with HIV, far more than the 40% figure guess estimated by various international media channels! According to Jay Silverman, Associate Professor of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health speaking to the BBC recently, "The high rates of HIV we have documented support concerns that sex trafficking may be a significant factor in both maintaining the HIV epidemic in India and in the expansion of this epidemic to its lower-prevalence neighbors."

India already has 2.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS, more than any other country in the world except South Africa and Nigeria, and is also a major hub for sex workers from across the region, such as Nepal and Bangladesh. Lacking formal employment, the tide of poor Nepalese women willing to provide these services seems to go unchecked.

Currently Nepal is rehabilitating itself after an 11 year old civil conflict that left nearly 13,600 people dead. However with the current national infection numbers hovering anywhere between 80,000 to 120,000 more than 17,000 are expected to die each year throughout the coming decade due to HIV/AIDS related infections. Nepal earlier had traditionally very low rates of HIV/AIDS infection at less than 300 per 100,000 but now it cannot be sure it will remain the same for the rest of this decade. Many returning commercial sex workers sent back from various Indian cities in turn marry back into their villages, whether projected government figures are accurate or belie the truth. Many of the women are also giving birth to HIV infected children and continue engaging in commercial sex work in Kathmandu, Biratnagar, Janakpur, Pokhra, Nepalgunj, Bhairawa and Birtamod among major townships.

Both the World Bank and UNAIDS officials have warned that the cross-border sex trade presents a potential public health threat to Nepal, although there has been very little data or action to show what's happening on the ground. This all paints a highly disturbing picture of young women and girls being forcibly introduced to commercial sex work outside of Nepal with high rate of HIV infections, and many dying of AIDS.

It is important for donors and international non profit institutions working in Nepal and helping the Nepalese overcome the post-conflict rehabilitation efforts to understand the depth of this problem. An increase of HIV infections burdens not only society, but develops astronomic health expenditure in their care and support, something a poor country like Nepal cannot afford. Thus, trafficking of women and children to India and South Asia from Nepal has fuelled in a very dangerous HIV/AIDS prevalence scenario throughout the South Asian continent, where the women infected with HIV have to bear a sad plight of being left untended and uncared for.

USAID has pointed out that poverty is still the fundamental problem that underlies all trafficking in Nepal. Due to the prevailing poverty, most Nepalese girls are illiterate and easily lured by the tiny attractions of work, higher salaries, easy life, and promises of a foreign job. This is now beginning to take its toll on the Nepalese women´s lives eventually having to face the threat of carrying HIV infections in working in India. This creates a larger problem of HIV spreading more rapidly through Nepalese society, where efforts at HIV/AIDS impact mitigation show a lack of concrete national planning and realization on the need to do something more urgently.

In fact, both the governments of India and Nepal have strong legal guarantees against the trafficking of women and young girls and even consider it a heinous crime. Both governments have signed most of the international statutes that deal with halting global trafficking of human beings particularly the UN, ILO and other abiding international treaties. Both governments recognize that this form of trafficking is slavery and serfdom, in short, another form of forced labor as during the Second World War. International donors have even put conditions on Nepal, since it is a party to various international legal instruments to put in concrete efforts to halt the trafficking of Nepalese women and young children in promises of more aid and assistance, but it is the scrupulous middlemen and not government that is the main problem here. It is nevertheless a moral obligation of the Nepal Government to adopt all necessary and effective measures to stop these cross-border activities.

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Outsourcing Babies

Outsourcing babies!
Deccan Herald / Feb 16,2008

There is a growing demand for Indian surrogate babies from foreigners but there is a lack of a legal framework to deal with surrogacy, paving the way for unscrupulous middlemen who push uneducated and poor women into surrogate motherhood, says Neeta Lal

After years of trying and treatment, US-based couple Jason and Nancy are finally proud parents of a healthy baby girl. And their tiny bundle of joy, Tara, was delivered for them by Ashaben through a surrogacy arrangement at Kaival Hospital in Gujarat. An Israeli gay couple experienced similar joy when, at Mumbai's Hiranandani Hospital last September, they 'fathered' twins through a surrogacy programme.

Noted fertility expert Dr Indira Hinduja describes surrogacy as one of the well-accepted methods of assisted reproduction that benefits patients who can't conceive or carry a pregnancy to term. Of late, there has been a growing demand for Indian surrogate babies from foreigners, infertile couples in India and even single mothers — making the country a preferred destination for such a service. As per the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) estimates, due to the upward spiral in the number of surrogacy cases, the reproductive sector in India is expected to rake in a whopping US $ six billion this year.

"After IT services," opines Dr Nisha Kathuria, a Delhi-based gynaecologist/obstetrician, "it's now the turn of babies to be outsourced from India. In these times of globalisation and market-driven economies, there's considerable demand for this service."

Low medical costs

Indeed. And fuelling the demand is a slew of factors, including low medical costs and a competent workforce. According to Dr Anoop Gupta, Medical Director, Delhi IVF and Fertility Research Centre, the total cost of renting a womb in India works out to around US$10,000 as compared to about US$50,000 in the West. In the US, states the expert, surrogate mothers are typically paid US$15,000, while the agencies claim another US$30,000. In India, however, fertility clinics charge in the realm of US$2,000 to US$3,000 for the procedure, whereas a surrogate is paid anything between US$3,000 and US$6,000 — a fortune in a country where the average annual per capita income is US$500.

But, despite the demand, surrogacy has its share of critics in India due to the moral, legal and ethical debate that swirls around it. Opines lawyer/activist Preeti Katyar, "If surrogacy becomes an avenue by which women in richer countries choose poorer women in our country to bear their babies, then it is economic exploitation, a kind of biological colonisation."

A factor that has contributed to the negative feeling is the lack of a definitive legal framework to deal with surrogacy and related issues. While commercial surrogacy is banned in many countries — including Italy, Australia, Spain and China — and permitted with restrictions in the US, France and Germany, the Indian government is yet to formulate any laws. In fact, the only guidelines, which regulate surrogacy — and the clinics that provide ART (Assisted Reproductive Techniques) — are the ones framed by the ICMR and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2005. But these, point out experts, are nebulous and patient and doctor-unfriendly. For instance, Section 3.10 of the ICMR guideline states, "No relative or person known to the couple may act as a surrogate." This, experts believe, is ludicrous as it propels childless couples needlessly towards commercial surrogacy. In fact, in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) experts say that in 90 per cent of the surrogacy cases in India, the mother is related to the childless couple while only in five per cent cases, the surrogacy is altruistic and in the remaining five per cent, commercial. So, infertile couples are forced to think twice before going in for it due to the costs involved, which is unfortunate as India is home to 14 per cent of the world's estimated 80 million infertile couples.

Legal ambiguity

Then there is ambiguity about a surrogate mother's rights. Delhi-based lawyer Rita Row says, "The guidelines are skewed and thoughtless. There's very little to protect the interests of the surrogate mothers." The guidelines state that "a surrogate should be younger than 45 years" without mentioning the minimum age. So does that mean an 18-year-old, or someone even younger, can become a surrogate mother?

Also, what happens after the baby is born? "The biggest problem," explains Dr Gupta, "arises after the baby's birth. Foreigners are unable to get legal assistance when it comes to taking the child back home." According to the ICMR guidelines, a child born through surrogacy "must be adopted by the genetic (biological) parents unless they can establish through genetic (DNA) fingerprinting that the child is theirs." Ergo, the only option left open to them is to ‘adopt’ the baby — which is a very lengthy and cumbersome process in India.


The regulations don't provide legal protection to Indian parents, either. The only legal recognition of the child's parentage is the birth certificate, and it's only the birth mother's name that can be used for this purpose. Consequently, if the birth mother decides not to hand over the baby after birth, there's nothing the intending parents or the doctor can do about it.

Unsurprisingly, with such ambiguous regulations in place, surrogacy in India has become a dangerous playing field for unscrupulous middlemen who entice and push uneducated and poor women into surrogate motherhood. This practice also encourages the misuse of a surrogate child for terrorism, prostitution or unethical genetic engineering research.

India can take a few pointers from the US, which has strict regulations in place — the law there mandates that surrogate agreements be meticulously drawn out to delineate the responsibilities of intending parents as well as the surrogate. "But in India," says Dr Kathuria, "surrogacy has a high potential for abuse as the monetary stakes are high." Admits Dr Raman Prakash, a Mumbai-based psychologist who also counsels commissioning parents and surrogate mothers, "When anything is influenced by economics, there's invariably a dark side to it."

No awareness

Experts believe that the basic problem is that people are not well informed about surrogacy and its related issues. For example, a surrogate's health is not given due priority. Fertility doctors are allowed to implant up to six embryos in a donor's womb — in other countries it's limited to three — which creates the risk of multiple pregnancies and can lead to severe complications, stillbirth or even the surrogate's death.

In many cases, the surrogacy option is used even when it is not necessary. "Sometimes patients have had repeated IVF failures or recurrent miscarriages," says Dr Kathuria. "Usually, a simple egg donation is enough rather than a more complicated surrogacy option."

Doctors agree that a mass awareness campaign is key to making the treatment more accessible to all. Many sensitive, surrogacy-related issues too, need to be tackled. As Dr Asha Jaipuria, a social activist and NGO worker puts it, "Who ensures that the woman's unused eggs or embryos are not harvested/stored and then sold to couples who want fair-skinned children? Or to couples who don't have viable eggs/sperms?"

Moreover, some questions need urgent answers, such as: what happens if the surrogate dies during childbirth, is there due compensation for her motherless children in that case; and what about the postpartum psychological and emotional support for poor women surrogates?

There's also the issue of money. As the treatment is expensive, there should be a regular audit to oversee the funds distribution to the surrogates. It's time the government seriously considers enacting a law to regulate surrogacy and related IVF/ART technologies in India to protect and guide couples going in for such an option. Without a foolproof legal framework, patients will invariably be misled and the surrogates exploited.

Women’s Feature Service


Kids Sold as Donors ?

Kids sold as donors?
Provided by: Sun Media
Feb. 15, 2008

Organ brokers prey on the 'socially marginalized, desperate, disabled or young'

VIENNA, Austria -- Are children being adopted for organ transplants? suggests just that, leaving UN officials wondering whether the so-called adoption agency is a hoax or another unnerving layer to the ever-growing human trafficking industry of organ transplants.

The web site, which surfaced at a discussion yesterday about organ trafficking during the second day of the UN's global forum to fight human trafficking, claims to be a Kentucky-based adoption agency that sells parents the "perfect match ... for the transplant of one or more of 'non-essential' organs to be donated to one of the adopting parents or your own children."
At first glance, the findings are shocking: Children priced according to their category -- platinum, gold, bronze or onyx, with first world children listed as platinum and third-world as onyx.

"Your new child will give of themselves the same love you will give unto them," the web site says.

But upon closer analysis, the phone number given cannot be reached and the address -- the same listed for other companies online -- cannot be located on a map.

"It's not beyond the realm of the possible that you could adopt a child and also use a child as a donor," California-based Nancy Sheper-Hughes, considered a leading expert of organ trafficking, said in an interview.


"If you have baby markets, you cannot stop people from exposing those children to harm," the Organs Watch director said. "There could be real instrumental reasons of wanting that child, which could include wanting that child to serve as a donor to an older child."

Organ trafficking most recently came under fire with the arrest of Brampton resident Dr. Amit Kumar last week, who was dubbed "Dr. Horror" for his alleged ties to a massive organ transplant ring uncovered in India.

Authorities alleged up to 500 kidneys were sold to foreign clients over the last nine years, with some victims being forced at gunpoint to give up a kidney.

Though Canada's Human Tissue Donation Act prohibits the purchase, sale "or otherwise deal" of any tissue, body or body part for transplants, said Sheper-Hughes: "Canadians turn out to be big buyers of organs, more than North Americans in the United States."

Despite "serious efforts" by countries to regulate organ transplants and move toward the use of more deceased donors, "the number of illegal transplantations carried out between 2000 and now has increased tremendously," said Nicole Maric of the U.N. Office on Drug and Crime.

"It's fuelled by a growing demand and by unscrupulous traffickers and brokers," Maric said. "While waiting lists for organs in richer countries are becoming longer and longer, it is an irresistible temptation for people selling organs, especially for those living in poverty."

Since Sheper-Hughes began studying organ trafficking 10 years ago, she has been laughed out of bureaucratic gatherings and called a liar by medical professionals for talking about something that was, a decade ago, "largely seen as a rumour," she said.

Studies have shown victims -- often from Eastern Europe, India, South America and South Africa -- are being coerced or forced into selling organs, yet there remains strong resistance to labelling it a serious crime.

"People really say it's life-saving. It's a value to society. It's something that maybe we should regulate rather than prohibit," said Sheper-Hughes.

The World Health Organization estimates organ trafficking accounts for 10% of annual kidney transplants.

"We conservatively estimate that some 15,000 kidneys are trafficked each year," said Sheper-Hughes.

The crime lies in the vulnerability of the victims, experts agree. Most are displaced, socially marginalized, desperate, disabled or young and naive.

"The price on this commodity depends on the value of the population," said Sheper-Hughes.

A kidney "donor" in the U.S. may be promised $35,000, while those in the Philippines are often quoted $1,500 -- if they are paid at all.

"It reproduces all of the racial, ethnic, gender inequities in the world," she said. "It always involves the exploitation of very poor and very desperate people who don't wake up in the morning and say, 'I think I'm going to sell a kidney,' unless someone is there and telling them, 'I've got a way to solve your problems.' "

"Such payment conveys the idea that some persons lack dignity, that they are mere objects to be used by others," Dr. Luc Noel of WHO said, adding there is a need for "unprecedented effort" in maximizing deceased organ donations, rather than utilizing living people.


It is a crime that involves everyone from top Mafioso players to respected surgeons, travel agents and independent organ brokers. Like human trafficking for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation, organ trafficking involves networks of perpetrators, corrupt organizations and countless victims who are left stigmatized and ashamed.

"We have to start putting some kind of rationing on organs," Sheper-Hughes said. "It has become a very special case as though one has a right to transplant, a right to organs, an absolute right."

"Nothing makes me more angry than people saying to me, 'I sold an organ because the doctor told me I have one for me and one to sell,'" she said. "Organ sharing among the living should be an exception, not a routine demand." Let's start with the dead. Don't plunge into the bodies of the living."


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Where have all the girls gone?

Namita Kohli, Hindustan Times
Email Author
Haryana/New Delhi, November 10, 2007

Faced with a crisis, even local elections have candidates promising brides in return for votes.

"My kismet brought me here,” says 14-year-old Heena, who’s come to ‘sasural’ in Malabnuhu — a sleepy village in Haryana’s Mewat region — from Kolkata. Originally from Bangladesh, the teenager can only blame destiny now. Last year, after a sum of Rs 6,000 changed hands, the ‘bahu’ found herself in an alien landscape: where Bengali is replaced by Haryanvi, rice by roti — and where cattle costs more than women like her, who are referred to as paros by the locals.

In the prosperous districts of Haryana and Punjab — where son preference has resulted in a skewed sex ratio — girls from economically weaker backgrounds in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal are being openly bought in droves for ‘marriages’ that are more often than not without the consent of the girl. The legal status of such wedlock, of course, remains questionable. According to data compiled by Shaktivahini, a Faridabad-based NGO that takes up anti-trafficking issues, there are up to 50,000 paros in Haryana alone, including a huge proportion of minors.

Census 2001 shows that the child sex ratio in Haryana and Punjab stands at 820 and 793 per 1,000 boys respectively. But according to the latest health survey by the Punjab government, villages like Sansarwal in Patiala have touched an alarming 438 girls per 1,000 boys.

Ergo, girls are fast turning into a vanishing tribe. A recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report warns that female deficit in the marriageable age (20-49) is set to touch 25 million by the year 2030.

The impact, however, is already being felt here. Says Dr Madhav Mohan Godbole, the director of Balgrah, a rehabilitation centre in Rai, Sonepat, “Villagers come to us and plead for brides. They say if we can’t fix them up, they will be forced to buy girls.” Faced with a crisis, even local elections have candidates promising brides in return for votes. Ram Prasad of Seoti village in Sonepat, concedes, “frequent trips are being made from all over Haryana to hunt for girls in Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and even Maharashtra.”

In a typical ‘buying’ scenario, someone with ‘contacts’ in source states facilitates such arrangements in return for kharcha-paani, explains Rishikant of Shativahini. The ‘going rate’ ranges from Rs 6,000 –10,000, depending on the age and virginity. Forced by poverty, many a time the paros also have to ‘accept’ polyandry.

Interestingly, parents of local girls are now spoilt for choice. No one wants a poor or unemployed groom, says Akbar Ahmed of Malabnuhu. Neither are they willing to send their girls to the land of paros.

Post-Marital Blues

Gradually, the cultural impact of these forced marriages is surfacing. Meena, 30, a paro from West Bengal bemoans, “Men here don’t know how to behave. Their language, attitude are very brash.” The women’s movements are kept under ‘close watch’ and they aren’t allowed to visit home for fear that they might escape. “But at least there’s food to eat here, else why would we come so far,” sighs Mamta, a ‘bride’ from Bihar.

Even so, there are ample stories of abuse. Ameena, 13, was sold to a 35-year-old widower Ashok in Seoti, who was desperate for a bride. It didn’t matter even if she was a minor. “Ashok would lock me up in a room, beat me up and sexually abuse me. He wouldn’t let me talk to my mother,” recalls Ameena, who tried to escape a couple of times, before being rescued by Delhi-based NGO Prayas just last month. “He was so much older, and there was a lot of communication problem. So I was just supposed to say yes to whatever he demanded.”

Ameena’s was the first case of trafficking registered in Haryana, as women seldom register complaints due to social pressures. “There’s no complainant, no accused,” laments Sibhash Kaviraj, SP of Mewat. A local police official in Seoti says, “How can we go about breaking homes? Unless villagers inform us of such incidents, our hands are tied… it is their personal matter.” While many like Chandigarh-based Professor Pam Rajput, vice president National Alliance for Women (NAWO), have been advocating frequent compiling of relevant statistics and sensitising both men and women, the administration has clearly, been slow to deal with the issue.

Meanwhile, the chain continues to grow. As the UNFPA report states, it is the poor and landless men who will be most affected by this bridal crisis. Evidently then, 35-year-old Anwari who was, many years ago, married to a man 20 years older than her in Malabnuhu, is worried for her four boys. “They don’t study. Maybe, I will have to buy brides for them also.” Already, across Haryana and Punjab, it’s a common refrain, “Who wants to give girls to poor men like us?” To which, one Ram Dulari of Seoti chides them: “Who will, when you foolish people kill your own girls?”

(Some names have been changed)


Sex selection in India


In ‘IT revolution and declining dowry practice’ (Open Page, October 28), Chandra Kommera has drawn an interesting analogy between the two. While it is extremely heartening to note this change in the bargaining power of women, such instances are still few and far between. For many, the birth of a girl child is still unwelcome. The sex ratio of India according to the 2001 census is a dismal 933 females per 1,000 males, up from 927 in 1991. These figures leave muc h to be desired.

A major concern is that economic and educational prosperity has not altered this long-held bias against the girl child. It is still a widely held theory that a male child will carry forward the family line. Another factor going against the girl child is the dowry which her family has to churn out at the time of her marriage.

In many areas, among the prosperous, dowry is viewed as a status symbol. Business families also feel the need for having a male heir. And with the trend of smaller families slowly creeping in, the girl child gets chucked out.

Armed with knowledge and money, access to methods of sex selection including female foeticide is easy. For instance, in relatively prosperous Punjab, the sex ratio is 874 whereas in so-called backward Bihar, it is 921 according to the 2001 census.

The mushrooming of illegal ultrasound clinics all over the country is testimony to the rampant sex-selective abortions.

And increasingly, for fear of being caught, these clinics seem to use symbolism to convey the results. They use blue or pink colour to convey whether the foetus is a boy or a girl. Or they make statements such as ‘Your child resembles a doll’ to convey a female foetus.
Hardly a deterrent

The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act of 1994 banned sex determination tests. It provides for three years imprisonment for a first-time offender and a fine of Rs 10,000. This is hardly a deterrent given the huge profits the trade offers and the lax judiciary.

The rate of conviction under this law is one of the worst with the first conviction coming as late as 2006. This could be attributed to the difficulty in producing evidence in court and a powerful lobby which has virtually converted sex selection into a profitable trade. Of late, sting operations by women disguised as pregnant women have helped nail a few doctors.

This trend of sex selection is extremely unhealthy and can have disastrous consequences for society. Moreover, a society which denies the girl child even the basic right to existence cannot claim to be civilised. It is time the loopholes in the law were corrected. Strict implementation of the law can be the only deterrent to the practice, given that attitudes take time to change.


Tackling the problem of prostitution


Amendment to the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act 1956 is in the making for over two years. Going by the modern standards of performance evaluation, it seems the voting public are getting too little work done by their representatives. The representatives are indecisive on what steps to take.

Prostitution per se is not illegal or criminalised in India but soliciting and trafficking is. The justification for such a dichotomy is as usual safely nestled in age-old beliefs, practices and religion. The law aims to protect the victim without punishing the perpetrators. Prostitution as a means of livelihood is exploitative, repressive and inhuman.

One amendment being heavily debated is whether the client — in effect the demand side — should be punished. Sweden has had some success in bringing down trafficking when it criminalised buying sex. Britain is also considering the move seriously. The argument advanced against this in India is that it would lead to more surreptitiousness and place the victims further at the mercy of police.

Sadly the poorer (weaker) argument is that it would affect livelihood of the sex workers. Does it mean that the government is there only to wring its hands and watch helplessly as people are traded like commodities, forced into a ‘profession’ which can hardly be called that?

Amnesty schemes for tax evaders or defaulters pave the way to legalise their illegal wealth. Why not a scheme to rehabilitate these workers to help them break the vicious cycle of poverty and coercion which condemns them to a life of disease and disrespect?

The entire approach is heavily tilted towards the effect and not the cause. Instead of catering to the ‘vote bank’ minorities, we should address this community which has little voice and a lot to complain about. This is a group which cannot organise itself, burn buses or issue threats to disrupt public life. A realistic solution would be alternative employment and focused provision of basic facilities.

The high profile campaign for the prevention of AIDS can at least in part be diverted to addressing the circumstances which force hapless people into sex trade.

Prostitution is still treated as some ‘foreign’ disease whereas it is, and must be recognised as, a ‘man made’ social evil. The policy and legal framework is to treat it and hardly to root it out. We never find any political leader or public figure taking a stand asking the youth to practise restraint or fidelity. If the ‘supply’ side is too dark and difficult to control, at least the demand can be attacked.

India is blessed with stability and order compared with countries torn by civil war, political instability and the like. It just requires the administration to be committed and interventionist. But given the approach of the establishment which rushes to ban bar dancers rather than bars, maybe it is too much to ask.

We have seen governments steamroll opposition from environmentalists, workers, coalition partners when it comes to economic and political agenda such as SEZs, privatisation or land acquisition but hardly are proactive when it comes to the unfinished social agenda. We have places categorised as ‘red light’ areas beyond the reach of the long arm of the state. Perhaps we can even have areas demarcated for fake currencies, drugs, arms, antiques and so on.

The absence of social anger and condemnation despite having full knowledge of its stigma and consequences remains an enigma. Why do we hesitate to say that, in the first place, it is wrong? Society needs values and they should not be contingent on convenience, laws and individual preference. Larger social interest cannot be held ransom to individual immorality.


The business of social responsibility

Any voluntary measure from the private sector will be fruitful only when there is a firm legal and policy regime

SANTANU SABHAPANDIT,The Hindu 11November 2007

Recent developments surrounding the operation of India’s largest foreign direct investor in the mineral sector, POSCO, in Orissa are indicative of the extreme conflict situation that exists on the ground. Incidents of violent protests and kidnapping of company officials can be seen as a manifestation of deep distrust and frustration that fills the general psyche of those living in one of the poorest parts of the country, bearing the brunt of development activities th at offer little to their needs.

Breaking the law cannot be justified, but it is indeed doubtful if criminal law alone can take care of a situation that the company is facing today. Clearly, social and economic interests are once again at loggerheads. Here is, however, an opportunity to recognise the finer linkages between business, governance and society.

What are the policy options that we have to respond to such a situation? It must be noted that we need private sector participation in the mining sector and the proposed new mining policy is trying to promote this. Beyond this, there seems to be a reliance on voluntary measures when the High Level Committee recommendations refer to the sustainable development framework, developed by industry association ICMM and the IUCN, in addressing social issues such as environment protection and meeting local needs.

Voluntary measures — e.g. the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) — are gaining ground in corporate strategy discussions or policy considerations in general.

There are a number of studies that show positive business outcomes of such measures, which in turn underwrite their reliability. However, the definition of CSR is still not free from controversy, as any prima facie drift from the profit-maximising objective by the corporations is believed to be unrealistic and seen with suspicion. From industry’s point of view, besides the economic, political or ethical underpinnings, CSR is increasingly becoming a necessary licence to operate within society.

Objectively, a company would be legitimate in carrying out its activities if it has received necessary approvals from the authorities to start operation and as long as it complies with the relevant laws during their operation. Also legitimate is their profit-maximising motive. There is perhaps no legal justification in the expectation that the company should carry out socially beneficial measures beyond what is required by law.

Any such measures undertaken would finally be led by individual business concerns of the company and would remain in the sphere of volunteerism. Yet if a company has to face a situation where it cannot initiate or carry out its ‘legitimate’ operation, it is doubtful whether a concept like CSR would at all be useful.

Voluntary measures cannot replace duties established by law or policy by the government. It is more so when the government needs to recover its credibility in public perception. Even from a responsibility point of view, the government, whether at the State or Central level, has much to undertake.

It cannot be denied that mining operations themselves are to be blamed for the distrust and suspicion that is pervading the general perception. Given that the public sector undertakings account for more than 80 per cent of the total value of mineral production of all minerals excluding atomic minerals, it must own responsibility for the externalities of its production process.

However, undertaking both regulatory and production activities simultaneously, the government subjects itself to a situation where likelihood of violation or dilution of statutory requirements is higher. This can, to a large extent, explain the public sector’s greater responsibility in nurturing the distrust among project-affected people in the mining sector.

The policy options in the hands of the government to address the situation are by and large obvious. Efforts are being made to address concerns of land acquisition and consequent rehabilitation policy for project-affected people. What needs to be emphasised is that such efforts deserve the additional thrust from business considerations that the policy is trying to promote.

What should promote a more proactive stance from the government is the fact that social responsibility is fast becoming a sine qua non for business operations and consequently for private sector investment. And only the government can provide the minimum standards through appropriate policy measures. Any voluntary measure from the private sector would be feasible and fruitful only when there is a firm legal and policy regime that ensures the basic minimum to society.