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Of human bondage


The circumstances are never the same. How does one equate a girl lured away from a village in Bengal to a brothel in Mumbai with the one pushed into beedi-making by her ownparents? Or a boy thrown into the laps of paedophiliac foreign tourists in Goa with one who runs away from starvation at home, to be picked up and employed by a carpet factoryowner who gives him a paltry daily wage? Which arm of the law and administrative machinery has failed to do its job and who will ensure the victim leads a respectable life? Wespoke to women across the country who work with victims of trafficking.

The police angle

Tamil Nadu is one of the source, transit and destination States in the country for trafficking. Based on the feedback of NGOs, seven districts were selected for a pilot project to combat trafficking. The project identifies vulnerable persons and areas, and takes action against traffickers. Anti-Human Trafficking Units have been formed in 16 police districts, and will be established in others soon. Also, Women Help Desks have been formed in every police station; help desks in railway stations and bus stands look for children and women suspected to have been trafficked. Once rescued, victims are sent for medical treatment. Police personnel now treat sex-workers as victims instead of as accused. This shift in enforcement prevents ‘secondary victimisation’. They are eligible for free legal aid and financial assistance. The punishment for traffickers ranges from one year to life imprisonment (for rape). In Tamil Nadu, notorious traffickers are detained for a year under the Goondas Act. Although rescue and rehabilitation are vital, prevention is more important because of the social stigma attached to the victims.

Addl DGP, Crime Branch CID Tamil Nadu, Chennai

(This is the nodal police agency at the State-level for anti-human trafficking issues. She is the Police Nodal Officer for the State)

Lost childhood

We work with victims of trafficking who are between 10 and 20 years of age. Children are rescued, and adults if they wish to be. Some victims in the sex trade also have children born in brothels. Women in the commercial sex trade also bring back young girls when they go to their villages. The glitter they move around in attracts young girls. Boys are trafficked for cheap labour, as are young girls. Many families still want the services of children as household help. Women are always more susceptible to trafficking as they do not run, talk about sexual abuse and accept things because of fear. Trafficking also takes place for unpaid or less paid jobs, living as wives without demanding the right to property, working in dangerous trade and arms and drugs smuggling; in the Northeast, children are trafficked to be child soldiers. I wish for a higher rate of conviction for traffickers, and that the Government has an agenda to protect children.

Executive Director, Sanlaap, Kolkata

Respect choices

At Point of View, we work on the broad palette of the human rights of all women, especially those of women who are marginal — sex workers, HIV-positive women, lesbian and trans-women, and women who are unable to speak out about everyday violence.

I was deeply moved by the sex workers in Sangli and Kolkata, and decided to tell their stories through my films. Many women use their bodies to make a living — in construction work, as domestic labour, as sex workers. Many do this knowingly, they are not trafficked. Somehow, society is uncomfortable that women do sex work to earn a living and chooses to label it ‘trafficking’ even when that is not the case. It is neither cost-effective nor meaningful to rescue women who are struggling to earn a living just because others have a moral problem. I would like to see women in sex work being treated as human beings, their voices heard, their realities understood, their ‘choices’ respected, not judged.

Executive Director, Point of View, Mumbai

Profiling the trafficker

The roots of trafficking lie in poverty, ignorance and tradition. The profile of the trafficker is varied since it is a highly profitable, commercial activity. The trafficker might be a relative or a known person who is trusted by the victim. This makes it easy for the trafficker to gain the confidence of the family of the girl or woman. Absence of women in decision-making platforms and their low levels of literacy and lack of economic opportunities make them vulnerable to trafficking. It is important to focus on reducing the number of newly trafficked people. This is because even when girls and women are rescued or extricated from brothels, the stigma often haunts them. A very small percentage is rehabilitated with their families. ‘Selling’ women is one of the grossest violations of human rights.

Development professional New Delhi

Second chance

I’d urge anyone who sees a child in trouble to call 1098. Through Childline, we have rescued innumerable children who have been trafficked, abandoned or are in conflict with the law. Through the Child Welfare Committee, many of them have been restored to their parents and guardians. Most children who are trafficked into Tamil Nadu are from U.P., Bihar and Orissa. Between June and September, Childline rescues at least 100 children a day — this is the time when children have failed school exams. They come to us after suffering physical and sexual abuse, with HIV, and forgotten dreams. We keep them occupied and motivated, and though some shine in our short-stay homes, we wish they could be part of a kinder, gentler world.

Childline Coordinator, Don Bosco Anbu Illam, Chennai

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