Thursday, February 08, 2007

Andhra’s girls vanish, many to Maharashtra’s brothels

Most cases go unreported, officials say 40 per cent of trafficking cases are from Andhra

Indian Express HYDERABAD, FEBRUARY 7 : Sarla was 10 when she left her house in Andhra Pradesh’s Khammam district. Her elder sister Lakshmi took her by train to Maharashtra, where she was passed on to another girl, who promised to employ her as a domestic help.

Instead, she was taken to a brothel, and sold to the ‘madam’ for Rs 2,000.

She spent the next few years changing hands, going from one owner to another. Her last ‘employer’ was Mrs. Trivedi. “We used to live with her. She would take us to picnics with men who we didn’t know. This happened very often. We were not given any money, but instead given food and clothes,” says Sarla.

She is now 15. And back.

That’s not a usual story in a state where over half of the missing children are never traced. An estimated 3,497 children, a majority of them girls, went missing last year and only 1,585 were recovered.

Sarla (name changed) was fortunate. She was rescued from Vani in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal by a team of Mumbai police. She was put up at a shelter in Mumbai and discovered by an Andhra police officer who visited the home to work out a system of sharing information with his Mumbai counterparts.

The police brought her back to Khammam, cracked down on the trafficking ring, arrested five women who ran it and rescued 37 girls who took the same route. As many as 10 of them are still minors.

Five years after going missing, cases of kidnapping and trafficking were registered for Sarla.

It’s the same story for Lekha, 16. She, too, was promised a job in Maharashtra and ended up in a Vani brothel. Lekha (name changed) has been rescued and is now at a counselling centre in Hyderabad, waiting for her HIV test results. In her Khammam village, no case was registered when she disappeared.

R K Meena, SP, Khammam, says parents are reluctant to register cases in rural Andhra, because of poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. “There is also a stigma associated with a missing girl. They know that if a case is filed, then police will come asking questions, and they do not want this,” he says.

Officials working against human trafficking say that Andhra Pradesh is a major supplier of girls for prostitution across the country.

Padma, recently arrested by Khammam police in Vani, Maharashtra says: “There are a lot of girls from AP in Vani.” While the police allege that she herself dealt in minor girls, she refutes it. “We too were forced into this business¿ why will we sell minors? Yes, we do trade in other girls. The other brothels around us do get children from AP. But it’s not our fault. It’s their own parents and siblings who come to sell them,” she says.

SP of the Women’s Protection cell in Hyderabad, Mahesh Bhagwat, says that many red-light areas prefer girls from AP.

In Andhra Pradesh, records show that the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secundrabad have the highest number of missing children in the state. In 2006, 1,031 of the 3,497 missing children were from here, and another 766 from neighbouring Cyberabad. Meena says that as labourers from rural areas migrate to the cty in search of jobs, many of their children are left unattended. Most of those missing are, in fact, from the lower strata of society.

Officials say that problem is worst in Khammam, Warangal, Adilabad as well as the coastal East and West Godawari districts. As in the recent case where 37 girls were recovered in Maharashtra, most of the minors that go missing are not reported in the state.

“In AP, the problem of missing children is compounded by factors like illiteracy. Social systems like the Devadasi system also endorse prostitution, making the police’s job harder,” says Union Women and Child Development minister (and Khammam MP) Renuka Choudhary. According to Choudhary, almost 40 per cent of trafficking originates in AP. Police officials say that there has been no survey to gauge how much trafficking originates from AP, but they place the figure “around 25-30 %.”

While Childline Hyderabad’s Isidore Phillips agrees that a large number of children that go missing from AP are trafficked, he says, “It’s not just trafficking for prostitution. There is also trafficking for labour, which is rampant. And while attaching the label of trafficking, we should not lose out on kidnapping for ransom.”

Phillips, who deals with a large number of missing children in Hyderabad, says, “There is a vast gap between reported and unreported cases. The police are reluctant to register FIRs for missing children. The Juvenile Justice act says that every police station must have a Special Juvenile police Unit and a Child Welfare Officer. This is non-existent.”

The state has no special team to tackle the problem of missing children. “We have no special team to find missing people,” says M. Ratan, Addl. Director General, CID (which deals with missing people).

“We can’t have a special unit for every different activity. It is the job of the local police and the SP of the district to find missing people,” he says.

Every fortnight, the CID compiles a list of missing people, along with photographs, and circulates it to all police stations as well as neighbouring states. T Krishna Prasad, who as Additional Director of the AP Police Academy trained three new Anti-Human Trafficking Units, says, “From the searching point of view, there is an issue. Something is missing¿ everyone is concentrating on sending, not on searching. We send pictures to districts, but nothing happens after that. There is no systematic approach to search for missing people. It’s not a job that police can do effectively. We should possibly employ some NGO for the job along with incentives.”

Other than trafficking for labour and prostitution, children from AP are also forced into begging or kidnapping. Though there have been cases of children being sent to the Gulf as child camel-jockeys, officials say such cases are difficult to track down, as parents are involved.



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