“Sir, please help us to go back to our families” was the unanimous tearful request by Rakesh (name changed) aged 15, Sunil (name changed) aged 16 and Arun (name changed) aged 17, all from a remote village in Assam. These boys were promised jobs in a garment factory in Chennai by a local broker. They were brought to Andhra Pradesh and were sold to a brick factory owner. The children were abused and misused in various ways. One fine day they ran away from the factory and landed at Vijayawada railway station where they were rescued by the Child Line staff and placed in a Temporary Shelter run by an NGO. I met them and interacted with them in Hindi. All of them broke into tears and said that they had committed a blunder by trusting the broker. They shared with me some of their bad experiences of their ill-treatment at the brick factory. Last year, I had met a group of young girls from Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand working in Mumbai as domestic workers. Most of them were brought by traffickers. Many of these girls go through various types of abuses but they bear them patiently for the sake of earning an income for their families.
As per the United Nations, “Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion , o f abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” According to a report published by the U.S. Department of State, India is a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. The majority of India’s trafficking problem is internal, and those from the most disadvantaged social strata – Dalit and Tribal communities, women and children from excluded groups – are the most vulnerable.
It is the children of the poor and marginalized communities who are often trafficked to be forced into labour. Parents of these children are either betrayed or lured due to their poor socio-economic conditions thus forcing them to ‘send’ or ‘sell’ their children for better livelihood options. The lack of awareness is a situation that traffickers exploit especially when it comes to uneducated poor living in slums and other backward regions in the country. Traffickers promise daily wages to parents of young children and transport them to big cities where they are often treated as commodities. Families in dire financial conditions are often approached by traffickers with an offer to buy their children and with no other escape from their pitiful conditions, parents comply. Ultimately the t emptation for easy money is considered as the prime source of child trafficking.
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal are common source areas for trafficking to red-light areas across India, according to the India Country Assessment Report 2013 on anti-human trafficking, brought out by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime. Sexual exploitation for prostitution (22 per cent) was the second major purpose of human trafficking in 2016 in India, after forced labour (45 per cent). A 13-year old Geetha (name changed) living in a remote village in Andhra Pradesh was sold by her parents to her maternal uncle. The parents are under the impression that their daughter is working in a garment factory with her maternal uncle. In reality the girl was sold to a brothel keeper in the red light area of Hyderabad. A newly married bride from Odisha landed up in the red light area of Mumbai. The person who sold her was none other than her own husband. Such sad and shocking stories are endless.
The root causes of commercial sexual exploitation and child trafficking in India are: poverty, lack of education, and the need to support their families. The unemployment rate in India is very high and there are not many financial opportunities. When children are offered work they are likely to be taken advantage of. Children in poverty often have to trade sex for a place to live or food. In order to get out of poverty or debt, some parents come forward to sell their children to traffickers. Children that are exploited for commercial sex are subject to transactions for child pornography and child prostitution. In some parts of India, young girls are forced into the system of Devadasi where they are "forced into a lifetime of ritual sex slavery" and given to the village elders to be their concubines. Lot of children have also been trafficked due to the demand by tourists. Many international tourists travel from countries where there are strict enforcements around child trafficking, to India to find child prostitutes.
A 2016 report conducted by the United States Department of State designates India as a Tier-2 nation with regards to trafficking. It means that although there are systems in place to combat the issue, comprehensive and efficacious care is not taken to completely resolve the matter. With regards to trafficking, India has also been defined as a transit country for primarily forced labour where children are made to work in mills, fields and factories for no or low wages.
Most families in India have higher numbers of children than are financially viable, and this is only compounded by pre-existing conditions of low income and weak family planning that makes selling daughters “in the prime of their youth”. This seems to be a practical solution for families. However, the biggest causal factor behind trafficking is that the children themselves are not fully aware of their rights and are incapable of seeking out help. S ince most trafficking occurs in remote regions that are largely disconnected from the world, victims themselves are unaware that there exist local organizations that work tirelessly to rid society of such crimes against humanity.
The serious effects of child trafficking are broadly classified into three: a) Mental Health Disorders that include Depression, Anxiety, Suicides, Aggression, Low self-esteem, Instability and Gambling; b) Substance Abuse that include Alcohol, Drugs and Smoking; c) Physical Disorders that include Weight loss, Fatigue, Insomnia, Eating problems and Diseases.
The Sustainable Development Goals highlight the following:
· Eliminate all forms of violence against children and women in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
· Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
A few questions for our continued thinking and action:
· "Children are the future of the nation” - Does it not s ound like an ominous prophecy?
· Despite having a national policy for compulsory primary education, only 50% of children have access to education, why?
· How can we explain that even after 72 years of independence, half of India's children are illiterate and the child slavery continues to exist?(Published on 25th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 48)