Trafficking of women and children
Thousands of Indians, especially women and children, are trafficked everyday to
some destination or the other and are forced to lead lives of slavery. They
survive in brothels, factories, guesthouses, dance bars, farms and even in the
homes of well-off Indians, with no control over their bodies and lives. Women
and children are also being trafficked for illegal adoptions, organ transplants,
the circus and the entertainment industry.
Although cross-border trafficking of women and children has been a problem in
India for the last two decades, NGOs and academic researchers say that there has
been a phenomenal growth in inter-state trafficking in the last five years.
While India is both a source and conduit for international traffickers, 89 per
cent of trafficking in India is inter-state. Shakti Vahini, an NGO working on
anti-trafficking issues, claims that traffickers are not just getting women and
children to brothels or to tourist spots: young women from conflict-ridden
states like Assam or drought-prone states like Andhra Pradesh are being sold as
‘brides’ in Haryana and western UP. It is well-known that due to rampant
practice of foeticide in the last two decades, Haryana has a severe shortage of
women. The traffickers, who even include women, lure young girls with the
promise of a job or simply abduct them and bring them to Haryana. Here, they are
not married, but kept as ‘wives’ by men. The NGO says these women are caged in
homes and undergo rape almost everyday.
Several tribal women and minors from states like Jharkhand and Bihar reach Delhi
and NOIDA to work as domestic labour. A few months ago, the Human Rights Law
Network, the National Domestic Workers Movement and the National Commission for
Women organised a public hearing of domestic workers (some as young as eight
years) in Delhi. They all had horror tales to tell: some children said they are
beaten with brooms, rods and belts. The women are often raped and if they try to
leave, they are not paid their wages. Most of them come from ‘placement agencies’.
While earlier women and children were largely trafficked from poor states, today
the northeastern states — Nagaland, Assam and Manipur - have also joined the
list. In 2004, a report, ‘Action Research on Trafficking in Women and Children
in India’, commissioned by the NHRC — in collaboration with UNIFEM and the
Institute of Social Sciences — revealed that every year over 22,000 women and
44,00 children are reported missing in India. Of these, more than 5,000 women
and 11,000 children are not traced. Many of the persons missing are actually
trafficked. In states like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tamil Nadu, the rate
of missing children had increased from 100 to 211 per cent!
Like slavery, trafficking offers huge profits. According to the NHRC report,
transactions in prostitution itself are worth Rs 185 million a day; Rs 370
billion per year. Human trafficking is globally the largest source of profit
after arms and drug trafficking. And, comparatively, the least risky. Experts
feel that the government, law enforcement agencies, politicians and the general
public should be more pro-active in tackling the issue. In 2004, the US
government put India on the Tier 2 Watch list (along with six other Asian
countries), for its inadequate response to the trafficking issue.
The Government has made many efforts to prevent trafficking in the last few
years. But a lot more can be done. In 2002, Shakti Vahini filed a public
interest litigation seeking to know how far the states had been able to
implement the recommendations (made in 1998) of the Report Committee on
Prostitution, Children of Prostitutes and Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking
and Commercial Exploitation of Women and Children. Two years later, the states
submitted their replies: none, except Andhra, appeared to have taken any
concrete steps. Some states have not even formed the basic panels to coordinate
work on anti-trafficking. None of the governments have conducted any mapping
activity to determine the extent of trafficking, an essential requirement under
Training police officers to handle cases with greater sensitivity; setting up
minimum standards of care for survivors of trafficking; coordinating law
enforcement in the case of missing persons — the states have not set these
processes in motion. Small, though significant, initiatives have been taken in
recent years by NGOs by creating awareness on the issue, rescuing trafficked
persons and getting the traffickers arrested.
However, this is a mammoth task. War against slavery needs a multi-disciplinary
approach. Women and Child Development, Labour, Home and External Affairs — all
these agencies must move beyond rescue operations to rehabilitation.