India's victims of child trafficking need our urgent attention
As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, there is an urgent need to work towards unshackling India's young victims of sex trafficking and paying heed to the unheard voices of survivors.
Archana* was just 13 years old when she was trafficked from her village in West Bengal. Her trafficker was a neighbour who lived next door. After years of abuse, Archana thought her woes would end when she was rescued. But as the assault of the middle-men and customers ended, the assault of the system began. The process of availing the victim compensation fund is a challenge.
In the case of Tansee** (16 years old), the ordeal began when she wanted to pursue her education. Tansee was sold into a brothel located in Surat and was brutally raped every day before she was rescued. Forgetting the abuse and violence she suffered was not easy, but when she was brought back home, Tansee wanted to continue her schooling. When she was denied admission to the school, she was terribly sad. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) along with the West Bengal State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (WBSCPCR) had to intervene to get her readmitted to school.
Each year in India, a large number of minor girls and boys fall into the vicious cycle of human trafficking. Children are trafficked because of complex push-and-pull factors, including structural poverty, the climate crisis, gender discrimination, and human rights violations on the one hand, and the false promise of improved opportunities and a better life on the other. Recruitment occurs through strangers, middlemen familiar to communities, or relatives. The process may involve forcible kidnap, fraud and deception, including false promises around conditions of work and pay. Typically, parents are the targets, for they hand over the children to recruiters, sometimes in return for a small lump sum intended as part credit against the child’s future wages.
On occasion, however, children themselves voluntarily leave to escape from desperation at home and end up in situations of exploitation. About 1,714 cases of human trafficking were registered and identified 4,709 persons as victims by the government’s anti-human trafficking units in 2020 with sexual exploitation for prostitution, forced labour, and domestic servitude being the top reasons behind it, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. The data also showed that the case conviction rate for human trafficking was 10.6%. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.
NCRB data also notes that 59,262 children went missing in India in 2020. With 48,972 children remaining untraced from the previous years, the total number of missing children has gone up to 108,234. According to a study by Reuters, out of an estimated 20 million commercial prostitutes in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking. According to Legal Services in India, every hour, four girls in India enter into prostitution, three of them against their will. The staggering numbers on child trafficking across various sources convey that it is possible that there are discrepancies and underreporting, and the data does not tell the full story. Rescuing is just the beginning of the major challenge on the road to recovery.
There is an urgent need to streamline and standardise the rehabilitation process, so that issues related to re-trafficking are addressed. While rescue, safety and physical rehabilitation are primary priorities, for survivors and victims of sex trafficking, there are several secondary issues which need urgent attention, such as trauma, the effects of alcohol and drug use, depression and other mental health ailments, which add to the psychological burden of trafficked victims.
17-year-old Jahar*** was trafficked at the age of nine and later rescued when she was 16 years old. Jahar does not know where she belongs as she lacked documentation, which meant that she could not even avail of compensation benefits.
In a 2020 RTI query, it was revealed that out of the 38,503 survivors of trafficking from the years 2011 to 2019, only 77 have got compensation. This reminds us that, it is pertinent for all government agencies to work together to ensure that the children's rescue and reintegration processes are planned and executed well.
Traffickers are using technology to gain efficiencies of scale, from online commercial sex marketplaces to complex internet-driven money laundering. We must also leverage technology to counter them. A centralised intelligence system that includes both police and non-police monitoring information and details of available regional resources is essential to rescue and reintegration success. It is important to strengthen a child’s integration back into the family and to support parents’ mentorship and acceptance of returned children.
As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, let us work towards unshackling victims of sex trafficking and paying heed to the unheard voices of survivors. As a country, we need to advocate for a robust anti-trafficking law, which should recognise the many factors that exacerbate vulnerability to trafficking, such as poverty, violence and discrimination, and work to remedy it. The role of the public, non-profits, enforcement agencies and international organisations cannot be over-emphasised in preventing this heinous crime. Mass awareness, massive public funding, and strict policies, along with coordinated enforcement, are the keys to fighting for their absolute freedom.
Joseph Wesley is head, anti-child trafficking programmes and case manager, Child and Adult Beneficiary Safeguarding, World Vision India
All names were changed to protect their privacy
The views expressed are personal
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