Haima Desshpande Friday, March 09, 2007 20:46 IST
For most, Mumbai remains a city of dreams. But, for some, it has become a place full of nightmares.In recent years, the financial capital of the country has emerged as one of the leading markets for trafficked minors who engage in prostitution or, in other words, the commercial sexual abuse of a minor. According to estimates released by international agencies, trafficking of minor girls is a $1-billion-a-year industry, and it is thriving due to increased sex tourism in Mumbai, Goa and adjoining coastal areas. Edging past North-Eastern states, poverty-stricken rural areas of Maharashtra — Beed, Latur, Solapur, Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Nandurbar, Chandrapur, Washim, Akola, Buldhana, Dhule and the Konkan region — have emerged as one of the biggest suppliers of minors.States such as Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa have also opened up as the new supply markets, says a Mumbai police source.As instances of HIV and AIDS reach alarming proportions, demand for younger, pre-puberty girls has hit an all-time high. Girls as little as seven and eight-years-old are being forced into prostitution, both in the red-light areas and as “professional” call girls (always accompanied by an adult), according to a DNA investigation.Affluent businessmen, some members of the film and advertising industries, diamond merchants and politicians form the “select” clientele who source minors.“Trafficking in minor girls has seen an estimated 30 per cent increase from previous years,” says a social activist working at Kamatipura — the city’s most notorious red-light district.“Poverty due to prolonged drought, mounting farm debts, unemployment and lack of livelihood are the triggering factors, which are forcing parents to send their daughters out of town for employment.”Though migration is also emerging as an important aspect in the minor flesh trade, numbers entering the flesh trade through this route are considerably smaller, explains the activist.“Even when girls are rescued, families are unwilling to take them back,” says the police source. “This has become a common story in the rural areas.” According to conservative estimates released by NGOs, the flesh trade in Mumbai “employs” about four lakh individuals. “Nearly 45 per cent — 1.8 lakh — are minors,” says Triveni Acharya, Founder-President of the Rescue Foundation, an organisation working with commercial sex workers. Nepal and Bangladesh are the biggest exporters of trafficked minors and women in South Asia. Though the police estimate there are about 35,000 Nepalese nationals in Mumbai’s red-light areas, social activists insist the number is closer to one lakh. A majority of them are minors.As per UNICEF estimates, about 12 lakh children are trafficked across international borders each year. Save The Children (India) states that clients today prefer girls as young as 10 years.“The victims are subjected to the worst form of torture if they do not ‘perform’ with the clients,” says another social activist. “Most are denied food, water and toilet facilities, and regular beatings are an ‘integral’ part of their lives.”Every minor girl is subjected to a probation period of three years. During this time, she is not allowed to meet or interact with others in the brothel, and kept in a locked room. The probation period is the gestation time for the brothel keeper to rake in the money.Shockingly, the same people who are supposed to uphold the laws of the country are the ones involved in the trade, says a social activist. “How else do some rescued minors find their way back to the same brothel?” she says. “This trade cannot survive without patrons in the Mumbai police. This is the main reason why the police are incapable of handling child prostitution.”And, it is all about the profits in this business. A fair minor fetches between Rs1-1.5 lakh for a night, and a dusky one is sold for between Rs75,000-1.25 lakh. An adult always accompanies the child to the rendez-vous point, and the clandestine destination is subject to several changes to throw off decoy agents. Though several NGOs are actively involved in rescuing minors, the magnitude of the problem keeps growing. Since 1986, the age of girls entering prostitution has gradually declined. In 1998, the average age of girls was 18 years. By 2000, it was 15. In 2003, minors as young as 12 were freely available.Now, the police source says clients have been asking for minors as young as 8 years old. In 1998, NGO Prerna brought together a consortium of like-minded organisations to address the issue of trafficking of minors.The group formed the Network Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking, to begin a dialogue with women working in the red-light areas. Today, the organisation has about 250 members spread across the state. Most work in the districts from where girls are trafficked.The Rescue Foundation had till December 2006 organised 50 rescue operations. Over 700 people — about 60 per cent were minors — were rescued from the red-light areas of Mumbai and Pune.“The fear of HIV has increased demand for minors,” says Acharya. “However, it is not easy for clients to get them. They are only sourced to a select clientele known to the brothel keepers. Fearing torture, minors do not dare to venture out of the locked rooms.”Though RR Patil, Deputy Chief Minister and in-charge of Home Department, mooted the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) to include brothel owners, pimps and others found guilty of trafficking women and children, it has yet to be implemented. During 2004 and 2005, the police sealed 21 brothels for housing minors soliciting clients on their premises. Currently, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act and provisions of the Indian Penal Code punishes offenders. If a minor girl is found on the premises of a dubious establishment, the said premise is sealed for a maximum period of three years, and the accused can be punished for a minimum period of 10 years. The Mumbai police recently launched a special juvenile aid police unit (JAPU) to tackle the menace. The unit has been staffed with trained personnel.(Inputs by Dayanand Kamath)
Fair minor: Between Rs1-1.5 lakh for a nightDusky minor: Between Rs75,000-1.25 lakh for a nightAge profile
1998: Girls as young as 18 years2000: Girls as young as 15 years2003: Girls as young as 12 years
Today: Girls as young as 8 years
The horrors of the trade Client listAffluent businessmen, members of film and advertising industries, diamond merchants and politicians form the “select” clientele.Shocking riseTrafficking in minor girls has seen an estimated 30 per cent increase from previous years. The dark sideVictims are subjected to the worst form of torture if they do not ‘perform’ with the clients. Most are denied food, water and toilet facilities. Regular beatings are an ‘integral’ part of their lives.