“It has been three years since then but I could still recall every bit of that chilly wintry night. At midnight Mausi, the brothel owner gushed in my room and took me along with my ten other friends in a small dark room. There was a mirror in that room with a death trap behind. It was a hidden chamber. Mausi removed the mirror from the wall, opened the door of that chamber and we were forced to get inside it, hands and legs folded. The door was locked immediately. There was absolute darkness inside. We could not move, could not breathe. It was so suffocating. Death was hovering around us. I was about to sacrifice my senses when that miracle happened. The door opened and we were rescued by the men in uniform. They saved me after four years of imprisonment in Kamathipura. But they could not save Jyoti, my friend. She was stamped inside the chamber before the police could reach.”
That was the story of Ruhi (name withheld), 15 years old who was rescued by the cops from the Kamathipura red light area in Mumbai. Ruhi was born in a small village in Maharashtra wherefrom she was trafficked at the age of 12.
Ruhi is not an exception. Every year in India thousand of women and children get trafficked. Trafficking of women and children has emerged as the third largest industry after arms and drugs trade. According to many, trafficking is a low-investment, high-profit business. Girls are bought for a little as Rs. 1000 per girl. Young girls especially between the age group of 12-18 years continue to be the main targets of traffickers. This is because the clients are more eager to have sex with virgins. Situation is same worldwide. Young boys and girls are bought and sold like cattle and they become the victims of extreme physical and sexual exploitations. Sexual exploitation puts victims at greater risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, creating further problems for the victims.
Child Trafficking involves moving girl and boy children from one place to another and placing them in conditions of forced labor. The practice includes forced sex work, domestic servitude, unsafe agricultural labor, sweatshop labor, camel jockeying especially for boys, construction or restaurant work, and various forms of modern-day slavery. This global violation of human rights occurs within countries and across borders, regions, and continents.
It is difficult to be precise about the exact number of children trafficked. Estimates based on the reports of law enforcement agencies, researchers and groups working with survivors and communities indicate that hundreds of thousands of children have been or are vulnerable to being trafficked from South Asia. Police estimate that more than 15,000 women and children are smuggled out of Bangladesh every year and NGOs estimate that 160,000-250,000 women and girls from Nepal are held in India’s brothels; 35 per cent of them were taken on the pretext of marriage or with offers of lucrative jobs. NGOs report that the numbers are growing, and that trafficking is affecting communities where it was formerly unknown.
Combat trafficking is a multi-layered process. It begins with the identification of traffickers. By the term ‘trafficker’ we mean every single person involved in the trafficking nexus including the person who gains the confidence of the child and takes him or her away from home, people giving shelters at various transit points during the transportation of the child from the source to the destination, people who are at the destination point to use the child for exploitation and the clients who demand this exploitation.
This identification should be followed by strong conviction which could be done with the help of the following legal provisions in our country like – the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) 1956, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989, the UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in person especially of women and children, 2000, SAARC Convention, National Plan of Action, Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act 2000, Indian Penal Code (IPC) 372 and 373 for buying and selling, IPC 34 for use of force and IPC 366 and 366A for kidnapping and Swadhar Scheme.
The next step is rescue of victims and protection of survivors of trafficking. Rescue operations need to be very systematic and prompt. Ideally police and NGOs should be part of a rescue process ensuring the rights of the survivor during and post rescue. Protection of the trafficked victim includes all steps towards the redressal of their grievances thus helping the victim survive, rehabilitate and establish herself/himself.
Apart from prosecution and protection, we need to take care of lot of crosscutting social issues in order to eradicate trafficking from the roots. Like strategies should address the issues of livelihood options and opportunities by focusing on efforts to eliminate poverty, illiteracy etc. There should be special packages for women and children in those communities where entry into Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) may be perceived as the only available option. Education and other services should be oriented towards capacity building and the consequent empowerment of vulnerable groups. Also gender discrimination and patriarchal mindset are important constituents and catalysts of the vulnerability of women and girl children. This manifests itself in several serious violations of women and child rights such as high incidence of female foeticide and infanticide and the discrimination against women in healthcare, education and employment. Since these are vulnerability factors that trigger trafficking, prevention strategies need to be oriented accordingly.
Natural calamities and manmade disturbances do exacerbate the vulnerability situation. Therefore relief and aftercare programmes need to have specific components focused on the rights of women and children. At the micro level the prevention of trafficking in the source areas requires a working partnership between the police and NGOs. Public awareness campaigns and community participation are keys to prevention programmes. Prevention is best achieved by community policing. Creating legal awareness is one of the most important functions of any social action programme because without legal awareness it is not possible to promote any real social activism. Legal awareness empowers people by making them aware of their rights, and can work towards strengthening them to develop zero tolerance towards abuse and exploitation.
Considering the fact that trafficking is a cross-border activity, immigration officials at the borders need to be sensitized so that they can network with the police as well as with NGOs working on preventing trafficking.
Help lines and help booths are very important for providing timely help to any person in need. It will be appropriate if the Child lines all over India, NGOs working on child rights, missing person bureaus and police help lines are linked together as a formidable tool against trafficking.