Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bonded slavery in modern times

Bonded slavery in modern times


The Telegraph Kolkatta: Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Like every 12-year-old in Tilwari (in Chainpur), her days were divided between some work and more play, till the day “agents” from employment agencies talked her parents into sending her off to “earn” in the city. So little Jasmine Beck (name changed) was packed off to Ranchi with the so-called agents, to what her parents imagined to be a “better life”. Jasmine’s better life comprised hungry and captive days, being branded with hot iron and being inducted into the flesh trade. When she became pregnant, her captors pushed drugs into her, to abort the baby. Once “cleaned”, her “travels” continued as she was sold to a broker, who trafficked her to Bangladesh, Pakistan and finally to Calcutta. Some seven years later, Jasmine, then 19, was rescued and brought to a Ranchi remand home (Asha Kiran) that was set up in 2001 and is run by the Jharkhand Domestic Workers’ Trust (JDWT).

Perhaps a lot has been said and written already. The case for human trafficking (transportation of men and women — adults or minors — as commodities for physical and sexual labour) is a phenomenon that grows by the day. Most of the young people are pushed into the sex trade. (India, like Thailand and Philippines, has 1.3 million children in its sex-trade centres).
And there are many more children, who slave away in the various households across the country.Even a relatively new organisation like the JDWT reports that so far they have been able to rescue more than 270 girls from New Delhi alone. The organisation’s reports also indicate that around 45 per cent of the trafficked girls, who are encouraged to run away from their homes by agents and brokers, or are “officially” taken out with the parents’ consent, are pushed into the flesh trade. Barring one or two occasions, when police help was sought, in most cases, JDWT volunteers, with active cooperation of citizens, carried out “rescue” operations.
Information often comes from relatives, friends, self-help groups and JDWT and the parent organisation National Domestic Workers Trust (NDWT) volunteers. NDWT has a network spread over 22 states in India.

But often being rescued is not good enough, as often it becomes difficult to mainstream such kids (they are kids mostly). Ostracised by the society and sometimes not accepted by their parents, they often are too disturbed to respond to the counselling that they are offered.
At Asha Kiran, Jasmine is a “problem” child. She remains virtually incommunicado and refuses either to attend school like the other girls or to attend the many courses — that includes tailoring and embroidery — run by the authorities.JWDT coordinator Sister Jemma says: “Even when the girls are rescued, they impart little or no information. It is only through intensive counselling sessions that go on for days that we are able to put in place a complete story related to us in bits. The counselling of course, is done by a trained group of professionals and me,” Toppo says.

Asha Kiran was formed by a group of Jesuit sisters. In 2001 Sr. Jemma took over as the coordinator. When it began, the organisation had no remand home to speak of, that is till Sr. Jemma chanced upon a three-storied unfinished structure built by the state welfare department, on the Ursuline School premises. Sr. Jemma unsuccessfully approached the state government to finish the structure, originally meant to be a working-women’s hostel. When that did not work out, Rotary Club of Belgium and Ranchi South along with some worthy citizens rose to the cause. Thus the remand home came into being. Now, the centre successfully runs several programmes for the rescued children that include classes on leadership building and special classes on children’s rights. There are also vocational courses — tailoring and embroidery —held for the kids. The organisation, follows a step-by-step programme of rescue, rehabilitation and mainstreaming (when they are considered capable of an independent life). But the rescued girls at Asha Kiran are yet to reach the age or the maturity, when they may be mainstreamed, as of now.

Increasingly, places like Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar are becoming breeding grounds for many “agents” who lure young boys and girls outside the state. In case of the girls, deprived of education, property and inheritance or economic options, many of them are often forced into child marriage and are eventually left with no options other than prostitution when they have to earn their own living.In the face of abject poverty and with a strong demand for young girls in the cities’ red-light areas or brothels, young girls or women fall prey to the trafficker first and later to the system that runs the world of flesh trade. It is not that all is lost, when it comes to the cause. Some organisations like the JDWT, has managed to compile a near comprehensive list of several hundred recruiting agents located in Delhi who despatch their agents to the rural areas of Jharkhand to lure young girls . “Worse still, many of the offices have Christian and tribal names,” Toppo said.

But the biggest problem remains the government’s low prioritisation of the particular problem. Though there is occasional help (in terms of rescue and grants), on the whole the Indian administration refuses to talk about the issue that has been under the glare of the international spotlight for years now. Till the time the problem is treated, there will be several such stories. Unfortunately, not everyone of them will have an Asha Kiran to fall back on.


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