Thursday, October 18, 2007

Like other countries, India doesn’t monitor trafficking accurately; even global numbers are broad estimates

Alison Granito
New Delhi

Businesses in India’s fast growing economy may be judged by more than their employees, but also by the company they keep. Forced and trafficked labour are present in the supply chains of many Indian companies and most don’t know it, say analysts.

For companies in most industries, the risk isn’t that victims of trafficking or forced labour will end up working directly for them, but rather for those providing services, from a subcontractor of a construction firm building a new plant to local food establishments that provide catering services.

While experts say the issue isn’t on the radar of most Indian companies, one of the few exceptions is Tata Steel Ltd.

“We see our job essentially as risk mitigation,” says Sanjay Singh, vice-president, public affairs, at Tata Steel. “We have to ensure that people that are drawn to the area because of the project are there because they have chosen to be. You can’t go around with one eye shut just because it is a matter of convenience.”

Worldwide, the largely black-market trade in people generates at least $32 billion (Rs1.25 trillion) a year, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), which launched a major campaign on the issue in 2005.

Some 12.3 million people around the world are forced to work in labour-intensive industries such as construction, agriculture, sweatshops, food processing and preparation, domestic work, as well as the flesh trade, according to ILO.
“What we know is that South Asia trails only Southeast Asia in the number of trafficking victims, making it one of the most active places in the world for this and India is a major part of that,” says Patrick Belser, ILO’s Geneva-based research coordinator on forced labour, speaking via telephone from a hotel in New Delhi, where he was attending a UN-sponsored conference on trafficking in South Asia.
Like most governments, India doesn’t keep the necessary statistics to monitor trafficking accurately at the country level, meaning even the international numbers are broad estimates, says Belser.

One in five victims of forced labour is also a victim of trafficking, meaning they have been abducted, coerced or driven into their situation by fraud—usually a promise of a better job that has little resemblance to the one in which they end up. Once there, they often perform back-breaking physical labour with little to no protection from the elements, according to ILO and other UN bodies.

While the distinction between forced labour and trafficking can sometimes be blurred and some people can fall into both camps, those who aren’t victims of trafficking are often considered victims of forced labour because although they volunteer for work, they have to take on significant debt they have little to no chance of paying back, trapping them in the situation, say analysts.

“Fundamentally, the concerns that drive human trafficking are economic. Poverty, the desperate need for employment and other structural variables are prevalent here ” says PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner Anuradha Tuli. More than 300 million of India’s 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, according to the World Bank.
A few Indian firms have taken a hard look at their supply chains—Tuli’s firm has worked with “a major tea producer” she declined to name—but most remain unaware or choose to ignore the issue.

On Thursday, a “Delhi Declaration” against trafficking was announced at the UN-sponsored conference. The declaration aims to forge alliances to fight trafficking and forced labour in South Asia, including development of a business coalition against the illegal trade in people here.

Non-profit organizations working against trafficking hope to see corporate sector involvement on several levels. “The government still doesn’t have a database that can track missing and exploited children and there are many firms that could help them accomplish that,” says Shireen Miller, head of policy and advocacy for Save the Children, Bal Raksha, Bharat.

“To the extent that they can target their employees and raise awareness so they don’t use child or forced labour in their homes, that would also be a welcome move.”
As for Tata Steel, it will virtually double its capacity away from its Jamshedpur base in Jharkhand into Chhattisgarh and Orissa. So, it is set to oversee a lot of construction work. The firm asks all contractors to sign and adhere to its code of ethics, which addresses human rights issues, and performs checks to look for things such as evidence of forced labour, said Singh. And the same would apply to any subcontractor hired by a firm working for Tata, he said.

The process isn’t necessarily an easy one, he notes: “The steel industry supply chain is very, very long.”


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Human trafficking: A determined enemy

Sidharth Pandey

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 (New Delhi)NDTV24X7

Every year close to one lakh Indians, mainly women and children simply disappear. Most end up either as bonded labour or are forced into prostitution.

On Wednesday the government and the United Nations came together and launched, as what is being called, one of the largest coordinated campaigns against human traffickers, even roping in Bollywood and Indian industry to take on the third largest organized criminal activity in the world.

Singing a song for the child victims of trafficking, singer Usha Utthup joined hands with other bollywood stars and NGOs to launch in India the Global fight against trafficking considered to be the third largest criminal activity next only to illegal drugs and arms sales.

''The children of red light areas are innocent and the real victims of trafficking,'' said Usha Utthup, Singer.

According to estimates there are over 12 million child labourers in the country. Many of them end up being forced into prostitution in the country.

''I want the customers to be arrested, the demand is higher for even kids between 9-6 years of age. These people need to be punished,'' said Renuka Choudhary, Minister, Women and Child Development.

Over the years several members of NGOs and police have been killed while fighting traffickers. The government and the United Nations say that they are fighting a very determined enemy.

''It is about 32 billion dollars industry. 800 thousand people are trafficked every year. The same people who are into moving arms also move people,'' said Jeff Avina, Director of Operations, UNODC.

''Its is becoming a focal issue because of the international pressure, because of UN pressure. It is time we have a system in place which is coordinated and visible and accountable,'' said Kiran Bedi, DG, BPRD.

India is one of the biggest sources as well as a destination for trafficking. While efforts are on to combat this highly organized crimes, delay in prosecution still remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks.


Fight on against child trafficking

Manu Sharma Sachdev

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 (New Delhi)
It has been a year since the government banned child labour but virtually nothing has changed on the ground, thanks to the complete lack of enforcement.

Less than a month after the ban on child labour comes into effect, three girls were rescued from the Gupta household in Faridabad's IP colony. With nowhere to go, the bruised and traumatized girls spend five days in a police station while the accused go scot-free.

A year later, the government claims the child labour law is a huge success.

''We have been putting laws in place, the police is also being made aware. Its an evil we have to stop at all costs,'' said Renuka Chaudhary, Minister, Women and Child Development.

These words mean nothing to the girls who have changed many homes in the last year. Finally they are starting to settle down in this Bal gram in Sonepat.

Their physical scars have started fading away. The emotional scars will take time to heal but justice is far from done.

The traffickers are still at large due to a lack of any will to take action. The family who exploited and abused them is also out on bail. And even though the families of the girls have been traced, they still can't return home.

''My father had come to take me. But I had to tell him to go back because my case is on. After the case is over he will come and take me. It's nice here. I play with my friends, but I want to go home,'' said a victim of child trafficking.

Most of these children who've been rescued as child labour are also victims of trafficking.

Driven to desperation by poverty, these children are forced to look for ways to earn a living and end up falling prey to traffickers.

It's been a year since the ban on child labour was imposed and amended trafficking prevention act. But even these stringent laws have not been adequate enough to get justice for these girls and many others like them. Ironically its overlapping laws and the administration that is not able to effectively implement them


Hunt for parents of ‘sold’ Bengal girl

Chandigarh, Oct. 15 The Telegraph :
A hunt is on for the parents of a 15-year-old Bengal girl who sold her for Rs 30,000 to a Haryana farmer in a case that highlights trafficking from the eastern state.
“We have arrested Ashok (the farmer) from Sonepat’s Seoti village. We are on the lookout for her parents,” a senior police officer said.
The arrest of Ashok, 30, followed a complaint from the girl — possibly the first in Haryana where such incidents are rare — that he had raped her after she was sold to him about three months ago.
According to the police, when the girl told Ashok she wanted to go home, he refused and, instead, demanded his money back. “It was then that she mustered the courage to ask us for help. She is now in the care of a social organisation in Delhi,” the officer said.
A police team will soon be sent to Nathanpur, her village in Bengal, and to Delhi, where the girl has claimed she was brought by her mother before being sold.
Haryana’s skewed sex ratio (861 girls to 1,000 boys) has fuelled trafficking from states like Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. They are brought for marriage but allegations abound that they are pushed into flesh trade.
Although official figures are not available, estimates put the number of “trafficked brides” — brought for marriage — in Haryana at 50,000. Shakti Vahini, a Delhi NGO that has conducted a survey to highlight the problem, puts the number of such brides in the Mewat region, which borders Delhi, alone at 10,000.


Foreign adoption gets simpler

New Delhi, Oct. 14: The government has prepared new adoption rules that will spare prospective foreign parents harassment and delays of over a year in adopting Indian children.

Indians who want to adopt may, however, have to wait even longer than they do at present.

Foreigners will no longer need clearance from the state governments’ adoption coordination agency, a process which officials and activists said often takes over a year.

“State government clearance takes over a year in most cases and is the main reason for the harassment and delays that prospective foreign parents face,” said a senior official of the Central Adoption Resource Agency (Cara).

Cara, the country’s apex adoption body, is likely to declare the new guidelines “anytime now”, sources said.

Under the new rules, the government will be responsible for identifying the agency in India that can offer a child for adoption. Now, foreigners have to first apply to their governments, which have to find and get in touch with adoption agencies in India on their own. This process, Cara officials said, delays the entire adoption procedure, increasing the trauma of the child as well.

“Once a child knows about the adoption, it is in his or her best interests to be handed over to the parents. Both sides need to know each other better,” the official said.

Indian parents may, however, have to wait longer before they can start a family with their adopted child as all applications will now be scrutinised by the Centre.

The existing rules allow Indians to approach agencies directly, increasing the possibility of trafficking and other crimes against children under the garb of adoption, officials said. Now, parents will have to first register with a “state adoption agency” recognised by Cara.

Trained social workers of the state agency will file a “home study” after visiting the home of the prospective parents and interacting with them. The report will be made available to Cara. The state agency will identify an adoption home that matches the child’s needs with what the parents want.



Conviction for human trafficking is made especially difficult by the complicated and fluid nature of the crime, writes Sreyashi Dastidar

“Trafficking is about completely reducing accidents,” the smug, paunchy constable on the screen was saying, causing much amusement among the audience. But the laughter faded away — when a policewoman started talking about how her calls always got transferred to the vehicular traffic department when she called her headquarters and asked for the anti-trafficking section.

If this is the response of a large section of the law-enforcement establishment to the phenomenon of human trafficking — only seven per cent of Indian police personnel is known to have received any training in the subject — what exactly does it mean to say the two words in India? Or for that matter in Bangladesh, Nepal and the host of countries bunched together as south Asia? The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime may have realized that giving some age-old crimes an umbrella name does precious little by way of curbing them. Hence, perhaps, the idea of GIFT (the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking) and the keenness to have the government as the running mate — resulting in a two-day conference in New Delhi (October 10-11), which brought together NGOs, bureaucrats, ministers, filmstars, artists, corporate leaders, journalists, and, of course, policemen.

But where were the victims/survivors? It would be understandable if the decision to keep them away from the public forum was taken to show sensitivity to their “complex tragedy”. But what about their stories, the specifics of their cases, in the absence of which any discussion could only become a general exchange of pious intent? Case studies were too few and far between. Perhaps the idea was to show that exploitation and atrocities are the same everywhere?

One wishes the circumstances were the same, but they seldom are. How does one equate a girl lured away from a village in Meghalaya to a brothel in Delhi with the one pushed into beedi-binding by her own parents just so there is enough money to feed all the mouths in the family? Or a boy thrown into the laps of paedophiliac foreign tourists in Goa with one who runs away from starvation and poverty at home, to be picked up and employed by a brick-kiln owner who gives him a paltry daily wage and lunch? Which arm of the State — women and child development, labour, police, or home affairs if there is border-crossing — has failed to do its job in each of these cases, and which is responsible for ensuring that the trafficked person gets a livelihood and a respectable life?

This is why trafficking is such a tricky crime in developing countries with their many areas of darkness. In Haryana, for instance, where it is acceptable to destroy female foetuses and kill baby girls, young women are trafficked from Bengal and the Northeast and forced into marriage to keep the family line going. How does one, in the absence of a complaint from the girl or her family, initiate criminal proceedings against those who claim the girl as their daughter-in-law?

Not surprising, therefore, that three convictions are all that the anti-human trafficking campaign has to show for itself in India. Three is also the number of states — Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Goa — where anti-human trafficking units have been formed within the police force. But, as a senior bureaucrat pointed out, such cells tend to get identified as the ‘social’ desks (implying soft responsibility) and are put under weaker officers, while the complexities of the crimes require the most competent policeman at the helm.

It will be unfair to say, however, that any of the three states mentioned has a weak officer handling human trafficking, and the success of decoy-based raid-cum-rescue operations proves that law-enforcement agencies are waking up to the seriousness of the crime. But the problem here is that the anti-human trafficking units are located in the police headquarters in the state capitals, while the thanas in the districts and villages — from where most trafficked persons are sourced — are still largely oblivious to the threat.

More important, in the balance of power, the beneficiaries of trafficking — from the local dalals to the higher criminals who have the money both to buy human beings and to hush up investigations — have far too much advantage over those they buy, sell or exploit. In south Asian countries, where corruption is endemic to the system, how realistic is it to expect that the victims — raped, battered and psychologically wrecked — will be able to fight the unequal battle?

Of course, the NGOs are there to help with rescue, rehabilitation, and the all-important legal support. But most of them have not had it easy. An NGO worker from Hyderabad recounted how a rescued Nepali girl was repeatedly called to depose before the prosecution and asked embarrassing questions over and over again, in the hope that she would break down and withdraw her charges. It was a minor triumph that she did not, but what then? Going back to her squalid village in Nepal, waiting for the next lot of traffickers to pounce on her?

Rehabilitation and repatriation continue to be a sticky area in the discourse on trafficking in developing countries. For the State is unable to offer viable livelihoods to the rescued individuals, who often go back to sex work simply to ensure a steady income. If the State and the NGOs were better equipped with an infrastructure of shelter homes and self-employment schemes, most stories of trafficking could have had happy endings.

They may still, if the Delhi Declaration drawn up by the UNODC and the government of India, on the basis of the recommendations submitted by the working groups (connecting trafficking with business, law enforcement, HIV, and other issues), translates into any action. Thankfully, the UN label can still make the administration sit up and take note in countries like India. The UNODC intervention has already helped anti-trafficking units acquire a vehicle for operations, ensure victim-witness protection (extremely crucial if the rate of conviction is to be raised) and pool resources to house the rescued victim for a few days till he or she can be sent home or to a shelter. The Union minister for women and child development was heard promising changes in the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, so that trafficked girls are not doubly victimized by being charged with soliciting customers for sexual services. Bureaucrats and ministers from the labour and home affairs ministries seemed equally committed, but the NGO workers seemed to know better. They preferred taking a break for tea while the ministers waxed eloquent on the many challenges ahead.

While the conference was drawing to a close in Vigyan Bhavan, a murky drama was unfolding in another part of the capital. An American citizen of Indian origin and three accomplices were arrested for trying to traffic folk artists from Punjab to the US. Since the artists were charged Rs 15-20 lakh each, this is probably a case of smuggling of migrants rather than trafficking (smuggled migrants are consenting individuals, while trafficked persons are coerced or lured). But the outcome of the case — whether it results in prosecution and conviction — could indicate what lies in store for those fighting to stop human trafficking in this part of the world.


Married into Traffic

Deepali Gaur Singh, RH Reality Check,
Asia on October 15, 2007 - 8:17am

Endless films from the stables of the Indian film industry in the late seventies and eighties dealt with the issue of a false promise of marriage, the onset of an illegitimate pregnancy and emotions galore on being a virtuous as opposed to an ‘unwed' mother. In extreme circumstances the paramour would be simply bumped off to avoid embarrassment and social ostracism. In other situations, the ‘good man' (read ‘hero' of the film) would propose marriage to the now ‘soiled' lady in question. That is really what is at the center of many Asian social set-ups - marriage. Marriage redeems you, marriage apparently protects you, marriage gives you a legal status. But for the millions of child brides in the continent, marriage is the vehicle that transports you into yet another zone of exploitation beyond redemption - due precisely to the protection marriage enjoys as a societal sanction.

The practice of child marriage, though banned way back in the 1920s in colonial India, continues to be practiced quite openly under the purview of religion and traditional beliefs. In some states the auspicious occasions of festivals are an excuse to solemnize mass marriages of mostly under-age boys and girls very much under the watchful eyes of the law. And that is what makes the conditions of these young girls even more poignant. With such a high premium on marriage parents more often than not are willing to marry their young daughters to the first eligible man. Yes, man! because many of the grooms are much older widowers or men who would have abandoned their earlier wives for various reasons ranging from inadequate dowry to the inability to bear a male child.

The practice of child brides has been responsible for several other malpractices ranging from early widowhood - meaning abandonment by families - and so for many an almost natural transgression to the commercial sex trade or the devdasi system etc. Today, one in every three girls (33%) in India is married before they reach the age of fifteen - often a child herself and completely ill-equipped to bear a child. Besides it condemns her to a life of illiteracy, economic dependency and psychological and physical incapacity.

But what makes their situation even more risky is that very often marriage is the ruse used to dupe their families into literally selling their daughters into the commercial sex trade. In India it is one of the common routes into the sex trade for many women. Women, especially from rural areas and small towns, who entered into matrimonial alliances with out-of-towners found themselves being sold off to the next customer in the chain the minute they move out of the relatively more secure surroundings of their villages. People living within the community were the first links in the chain to take these fresh recruits to the sex trade. As part of the socio-economic set-up of the village, they know which family is poor or has too many daughters (dowry-related problems lead more and more poor girls into getting duped by false promises to marry); which family has lost breadwinner or is in debt; who has been deserted by a husband or lover (especially since families refuse to take them back for fear of social approbation and spoiling the marriage prospects of younger sisters); or which woman is pregnant or a widow. In poor societies trapped within the walls of their own traditional facades it actually is quite easy to ensnare the unsuspecting victims since instead of demanding dowry as most grooms and their families do, these fake grooms also pick up tabs for the marriage. And once taken from a remote village these penniless and illiterate women just get lost somewhere in the world that greets them, hardly ever being able to make their way back home and often choosing not too.

The human trafficking network is today considered the third-largest source of profits in organized crime, next only to the narcotics trafficking and the arms trade. And the trafficking of children usually happens through well organized networks of family, relatives, friends, community leaders, brokers, the pimps and owners of brothels, the police, political connections and the criminal nexus. So in countries like Afghanistan where the arms-for-drugs nexus already flourishes, the trafficking of children has just become another component of this already existing network. Human trafficking has been closely related to the drug trafficking routes and the established narco-mafia. Often parents here have been known to sell off their daughters as brides to pay-off debts in the poverty-stricken country - debts against a destroyed poppy crop, debts against food on the table for he rest of the family. And often these young girls (often also boys) are then sold off to the next buyer in this onward route of exploitation.

The size of the trade in the country can be gauged from the fact that over time India has become the source, transit and destination point in the international circuit with children in huge numbers being trafficked within and outside the country. India shares a porous border with over seven counties where political instability and economic compulsions are reasons at play for young girls from Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and even as far Uzbekistan, to be sold to traffickers with a one way route, either into or through India. Trafficked children and women from these countries frequently on an onward journey to other countries in the Middle East often find themselves bonded to sweatshop labour, domestic servitude and forced marriages or sex slavery with the only thing that changes is the manner and method of coercion.

Nearly 64 per cent of India's districts are affected by human trafficking. And while ten percent of it is international, the domestic market is where the lion's share finds itself. In many cases it is the demographic imbalance caused by sex selective abortions in several states that has ensured the regular demand for child brides from poorer families and states to the "states of demand."

And a more recent controversial judgment by the Supreme Court on the question of whether the breach of promise to marry could amount to rape really needs to be seen in each context. (The woman's statement was that the consent she granted for sexual intercourse was conditioned upon the promise of marriage). While courts hardly ought to be the refuge for every woman upset at being dumped seeking to avenge her ex-boyfriend by filing suit yet, hopefully this judgment would not be used as a precedent for subsequent cases considering that women from smaller towns an villages invariably get sucked into the vortex of the sex industry simply by virtue of the promise of a false marriage and the high premium placed on the chastity of prospective brides. There have been instances of women who were raped, promised marriage and subsequently sold-off to the next bidder. The permutation-combinations for the relationship between young brides, marriages and sexual exploitation are innumerable. The end result remains the same.


Millions of children labour on in India

Press release
11 October 2007
“Sonali, has come back home (Sandeshkali bloc, West Bengal) after two years. She is 12 years old and has spent the last two years as a domestic worker in Babughat, Kolkata. Cleaning a three floor house and cooking for a five member household. Her eyes brim with tears as she shows her hand that was burnt by her employer, who poured hot dal on it as there was a delay in cooking dinner one day. She fled with the help of a considerate neighbour”

The Child Labour Prevention Act which was amended on 10th of October 2006 banned children under 14 working as domestic servants and in dhabas, restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality sectors, making employing the above groups a punishable offence.

One year on, how far has the act been implemented by the national and state governments? The Central government had asked state governments to develop action plans to rescue and rehabilitate children who are working as child labourers. So far only three State governments have published these plans - Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and even today 74% of child domestic workers are under the age of 16.

Government of India estimates (Census 2001) that over 12 million children aged between 5 and 14 continue to work in various occupations including many hazardous occupations. This includes about 1,85,595 children who are estimated to be engaged in domestic work and roadside eateries. NGO estimates are very different, and place the numbers of children employed in these sectors (domestic work and roadside eateries) for the country as up to 20 million (with 1 million children estimated to be working in these sectors in Delhi alone.)

In response to a Rajya Sabha question it was stated that as per the information received from the state governments, 2,229 violations of the recent notification banning employment of children under 14 as domestic help and in the hospitality sector were detected. 38,818 inspections were carried out by some state governments from whom reports were received and 211 prosecutions have been filed. The above figure’s clearly shows that there is a lot to be done.

Save the Children’s work in the states of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra clearly shows that these children are routinely subjected to many different forms of abuse from unsafe working conditions and lack of food to being beaten, they are deliberately burnt or sexually abused.

Some of the key findings of our study on Child Domestic work have been:

* 99% of child domestic workers in Delhi and 84% in Kolkata are girls.
* Most child domestic workers are young girls who come from poor families and are forced to work for up to 15 hours a day with no breaks and little or no pay.
* 68% of the children surveyed had faced physical abuse and 46.6% of the children had faced severe abuse that had led to injuries
* 32.2% have had their private parts touched by the abuser, 20% had been forced to have sexual intercourse
* 50% of children do not get any leave in a year, 37% never see their families
* 32% of families have no idea where their daughters are working, 27% admitted they know they were getting beaten and harassed.
* 78% of workers receive less than Rs. 500 per month.
* In Delhi, 49% earn 1000- 1500 in a month. 16.4% get less than that.
* 42.7% do not know or have not been given their present address.
* 35% are brought to Delhi by relatives, 2% through agents and 22% through known agents.

“Childhood only happens once. For some it doesn’t happen at all.” said, Thomas Chandy, CEO, Save the Children, Bal Raksha Bharat. “To ensure that each child is guaranteed his/her childhood the government and the NGOs need to work towards implementing the CLPRA in spirit and form. Save the Children is working along with different Ministries at the national level and state governments in West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra to ensure its implementation.”

Save the Children is calling for:

* Better enforcement of the act ensuring that the children are rescued from banned occupations and the offenders are prosecuted.
* All state governments asked to formulate state plans of action to enforce CLPRA and implementation of the same.
* In line with UNCRC the age limit of the child be raised from 14 to 18. This would ensure that huge number of children aged between 14 and 18 working in hazardous occupations are rescued and rehabilitated.
* We need to be recognise that girls who work as Child Domestic Workers are at a great risk of being subjected to abuse.
* Undertake concerted campaigns to raise public awareness and strictly enforce penalties on employers.
* Undertake study and close scrutiny of the placement agencies, especially those working in source and destination districts to combat child trafficking into forced child labour.
* Effective plans from the government to rehabilitate former child workers and help them re-enter schools and benefit from India's various poverty alleviation programmes, especially in the areas they come from (source areas).

For more information, contact: Anuradha C. Maharishi
Media and Communications Manager,
Save the Children
on +-91-9811626122 or

Source: Save The Children


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Seduced, imported, sold...

Namita Kohli, Hindustan Times
Email Author
October 14, 2007

It’s a two-way street: of greed and need. When traffic flows, at the dead end are unsuspecting people, bartered every day in a consumerist society. As the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) identifies India as a top source, transit and destination country for human trafficking, the spotlight is, yet again, on the issue and its million victims.

Prerna, 14, was lured from Andhra Pradesh to Delhi, by her aunt. On reaching the city, she was sold to a brothel for a paltry sum. “I don’t know who raped me, but there was blood on my body when I got up the next morning. We were told that if we escaped, the police would beat us black and blue,” she says, adding, “Those who don’t manage to escape, eventually turn into traffickers themselves.”

One crime, many faces

For those working against trafficking, one of the biggest challenges is its ‘multi-faceted’ nature. In a rapidly transforming society, demands are ever-changing: prostitution, domestic work, friendship clubs, child sex tourism, migrant labour, forced marriages, even adoption. The human trafficking market feeds on all these.

“A low female sex ratio in Punjab and Haryana has given rise to trafficking in brides from poorer states like Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. They are brought for marriage, but many times they are forced into the sex trade,” says Rishi Kant, anti-trafficking activist at Shakti Vahini, a Faridabad- based NGO. In a city like Delhi, says Kant, domestic help placement agencies — all unregistered — are also trafficking women and children in droves. In one recent case, Darjeeling’s Priya Tamang, 12, came to Delhi with an IB official who promised her parents to educate her. The child later fled and told the police that they treated her as a maid. She is now staying in a Nari Niketan home in Karnal.

“It’s a colonial mindset of ‘master’ and ‘slave’,” says Bharti Sharma, chairperson, Child Welfare Committee. Sharma, who works with minor victims at the Nirmal Chaya Complex in Delhi, says she hears stories of multiple abuse inflicted upon children in domestic work. Away from their families, the child is not allowed to build a social network. Sexual, mental and economic abuse follows. In a fight or flight situation, more often than not the latter happens. “It’s here that either the child is restored to the police or goes untraceable.” Of late, she says, traffickers have also been tapping yet another market: adoption rackets. “It’s a complex crime, with multiple layers.”

To and fro

Even more complex are the routes charted by traffickers. According to a 2005 National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) study by Dr PM Nair and Sankar Sen, trafficking from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal is about 10 per cent; 89 per cent of the crime takes place internally. The UNODC report clearly shows the major ‘harvesting’ zones: Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Orissa. High demand areas point towards Goa, Maharashtra and Delhi. “As a transit point, Delhi scores on good connectivity — international airports and railways stations — so criminals are using it for trafficking people to Pakistan and the Middle East,” says Delhi Police PRO Rajan Bhagat. “Girls from predominantly tribal areas like Jharkhand are easy to lure,” says Manju Hebrom, member, National Commission for Women. Due to poverty, she says, young people become easy prey for the traffickers, who have extensive links in remote areas. From there, victims are transported in an organised way, with bodies changing hands and transaction made at each stage in the process.

The law is an ass

“The Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) concentrates more on prostitution, than the other forms of trafficking. Labour laws that permit the movement of people also need to be amended,” says SC Raina, professor in charge, Campus Law Centre at Delhi University. A constitutional mandate under Article 23, the Indian Penal Code and a host of other laws like the JJ Act complete the legal framework against trafficking. But implementation is the problem. Prosecution is often delayed, witnesses are not protected and the ‘victim’ is made the criminal. “Also, the police often don’t even register an FIR,” says Hebrom.

“We need to kill the source of demand,” says Renuka Chowdhury, minister for Women and Child Development, referring to Section 5C of the ITPA, one of the proposed amendments that penalises the customer. She points to the prosecutions in Andhra Pradesh : 1,008 traffickers and over 300 customers were arrested this year.

“As of now, the victim doesn’t even have the right to represent,” says lawyer Aparna Bhat, pointing to the situation where the ‘victim’ turns into a mere witness. She stresses the importance of anti-trafficking units (ATUs) and regional cooperation. This year, for the first time, ATUs were set up in Andhra Pradesh, Goa and West Bengal.

Rescue to restore to rehabilitate

But this is only half the battle won. The NHRC study found that 24 per cent of the ‘rescued’ victims are pushed back into the trade. At the UNODC conference, Chowdhury rattled off a slew of rehabilitation schemes and stressed that state governments should take action. Meanwhile at the same event, corporates waxed eloquent on ‘strategic philanthropy’. But on the ground level, things aren’t as simple.

“In a country where even the Below Poverty Line card is possessed by only those who can buy it, schemes don’t reach the needy,” says Sharma, recalling instances of children being re-sold by parents as bonded labour in Bihar.

“A successful rescue operation is a lost effort without rehabilitation,” says Kant. Ask the authorities to define rehabilitation and most talk of making the victims self-reliant by giving them stitching, knitting or beauty training. “None of these vocations is lucrative enough and soon, leads to frustration,” argues Gary Lewis, UNODC representative.

But time is running out for victims like Rekha, who was rescued from Delhi’s red light area in 2001. She was only 14 when she left Jharkhand to work in Delhi as a domestic help. One day, she decided to return home. While waiting at a bus stop, a friendly ‘auntie’ offered her a drink. The next thing she remembers is waking up in GB Road. “I was beaten, assaulted and raped,” says Rekha who was rescued a month later. Two years later, she was still languishing in a rescue home, waiting for the verdict. One of the many stories that NHRC has recorded, Rekha says, “I wish I hadn’t been rescued.”

Piecemeal efforts are on to ensure that these girls don’t end up as mere case studies. Perhaps, as Nair suggests, well-coordinated community policing that’ll emerge from the concerted effort of the law-enforcers and the vigilant citizens can prevent the menace.

(Names of the victims have been changed)


14 years, countless cases

(As told to Namita Kohli), Hindustan Times

Sunday October 14, 2007

"I have lost count of the number of rescue operations I’ve been part of,” says 39-year-old Ravi Kant, who has been working against human traffickers for the last 14 years. Since 2001, Kant has been running his NGO Shakti Vahini in Uttar Pradesh. Here, he narrates some of his field experiences — a grim reminder of the crime that’s taking place somewhere around our comfort zones.

December 2006, Faridabad (UP): This was a very disturbing case of child sexual abuse. A young couple had brought three minor girls to Faridabad for domestic work. The children, who were not even in their teens, were kept captive in the toilet. They were served food on the toilet floor, beaten and sexually abused. I saw injury marks on their bodies. When we reached the house, the lady refused to open the door, but later gave in. The police arrested the couple, but there was a lot of pressure to release them. As for the girls, they were very traumatised and could barely speak. To add insult to injury, the victims are sometimes made to sit on the floors to narrate their stories.

December 2006, Jind (Haryana): One Ajmer Singh lured a 13-year-old girl, Tripala, from Jharkhand on the pretext of marrying her. She was taken to a farmhouse where she was asked to have sex with his brother. When she refused, Singh slit her throat. I traced her parents to Ranchi. When I broke the news of her murder to them, they were shattered. In many such forced marriages, parents back home are unaware of their daughter’s fate.
December 2006, Delhi: One night, I got a call from the local informants about Manju. She had been trafficked from Latur, Maharashtra, to a brothel in Kamala market. When I reached the spot with my team some 25 minutes later, their musclemen were hanging around, as always. The senior women in the brothel, who are usually aware of the law, tried to stop us by raising a hue and cry. Usually, in such times, they hide the victim in a water tank or the attic. But Manju was in a room. She had managed to persuade another victim to come to us. The girls had been beaten, raped, and had faced a lot of violence. As we took them out, all sorts of threat followed. ‘Dekh lenge, aapne accha nahi kiya,’ they said. The threats and menacing glares followed us in court as well. In places like Delhi, rescue operations are easier. But in smaller cities like Agra and Meerut, the local police are at times hand-in-glove with brothel-owners, making the operation difficult.

October 2005, Haryana: Three girls from Assam and West Bengal were trafficked to Mewat and were about to be sold for marriage. The whole village was up in arms against the rescue operation. Even the police were sceptical. Some violence also took place. It took us two to three hours to counsel them. ‘What would you do if these were your daughters? These are human beings, they can’t be sold like property,’ we appealed to them. They finally gave in.