Body Shop/ Shakti Vahini to fight human trafficking in India



New Delhi, June 29 (IANS) The Body Shop India and international NGO ECPAT will be presenting over 300,000 petitions against human trafficking to the central government this July.

“We have never shied away from tackling controversial issues and causes that others would avoid. Indeed it was one of the dying wishes of our late founder, Dame Anita Roddick, that the ‘modern-day slave trade’ be brought to an end,” Shriti Malhotra, COO – The Body Shop India, told IANS

“We are thankful to all the people who signed the petition for their incredible support for this campaign. We are very proud to be handing this petition over to the government on their behalf in July.”

Ravi Kant of NGO Shakti Vahini said: “Every year, an estimated 1.2 million children and young people are trafficked, becoming victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. Human trafficking is the third largest international crime after illegal drugs and arms trafficking.”

“It exists in every continent, region and country in the world. The reason we have called for this action is because it means that child victims of trafficking will now have safe shelters and protection which will help their rehabilitation,” he said.

The Body Shop petition requests for legislative support for three calls to action.

First is integration of a compulsory module on trafficking in children within school curricula and teachers training programmes. Second is the strengthening of the special 24×7 nationwide toll-free helpline. Lastly, an establishment of specific shelters for child victims of trafficking.

Where have all the girls gone?




Villages in Haryana’s Jhajjar district are filled with men who cannot find a bride — because there simply aren’t enough girls. Smitha Verma reports from the district with the lowest sex ratio in India and finds out why it has become a wasteland without women

Tilak Raj has diligently been following a routine for the last nine years. After lunch — often at the cost of an afternoon siesta — he heads for the chaupal, the village centre, to play cards with a group of elders. It’s not the game that attracts him but the “networking” — as he puts it. He is looking out for a bride, and believes that the community gathering is the best place for matters of matrimony.

“Bring a truckload of women into this village and they will be married off in an hour,” says the 34-year-old farmer of Chhara village of Haryana’s Jhajjar, the district that boasts of the lowest child sex ratio in the country with 774 girls for 1,000 boys.

Raj isn’t exaggerating. The most discussed topic at the chaupal gatherings is marriage, besides health and employment. With fewer women than men — for Chhara’s 8,500-odd men, there are about 6,700 women — lack of partners is a matter of concern.

According to the 2011 census, for every five lakh men in Jhajjar there are about 4.4 lakh women. These are figures that speak of violence, as a poll by TrustLaw, a women’s legal news service by Thomson Reuters Foundation, demonstrates. The poll, released earlier this week, ranked India as the world’s fourth most dangerous country for women. Contributing to its high rank were trafficking, female foeticide and infanticide.

That’s why on an average, most rural men in Haryana are unmarried till they are 30. “I have lost all hope of finding a bride. When even literate and employed men can’t find a wife, what chance do I have,” asks Nitish Kumar, a 39-year-old landless labourer from Chhara.

Raj and Kumar are aware of the repercussions of female foeticide which is rampant in their village. “It’s an open secret that couples terminate a pregnancy if the mother is bearing a girl child,” says Raj. “How can we ever reprimand them? It’s nobody’s business,” says Kumar.

Last week, the government made it clear that it was everybody’s business. It set up a task force in each district to promote gender equity. But while the task force plans to meet every month to take stock of the situation and strictly implement an anti-female foeticide law, the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, Chhara villagers are not greatly perturbed.

With a literacy rate of 72 per cent, it’s a village like any other in the Jat heartland of Haryana, just outside Delhi. It is a fairly affluent village, with a population of around 15,000 thriving on agriculture and reaping the benefits of being close to the capital. Most houses have a television set, a cable connection and even an inverter to fight Haryana’s notorious power cuts. Men are farmers, professional wrestlers or workers with jobs in nearby industrial towns.

It could pass off as a happy village, had it not been for the growing legion of unmarried men. Panchayat member Satnam Dalal believes the village has least 800 single men. The sex ratio for Chhara stood at 830 girls for 1,000 boys in 2001. The village-wise figures of 2011 census are still being tabulated, but social workers believe the number of women has fallen drastically.

Not surprisingly, brides are now being imported into Haryana from places as far away as Orissa, Assam, Tripura, West Bengal and even Kerala. Pune-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan Kendra surveyed 10,190 households in Haryana last year and found that 318 women had been brought from elsewhere and married in the state.

“Women are generally bought for Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000,” says Haryana social worker Jaswanti (she only uses her first name). “Those who are fair and beautiful get offered up to Rs 1 lakh.”

Mishto Sardar came to Chhara from West Bengal six years ago to marry Rajesh Dalal. “I have no regrets. At least I get two square meals here and have a roof over my head,” says the demure 25-year-old. Her 42-year-old truck driver husband changed her name to Shikha before introducing her to the village. “My only regret is I don’t get to eat fish and rice here,” says the mother of two girls.

A family with two daughters is a rarity in Chhara. Not surprisingly, Shikha is now hoping for a son, and says will go for an ultrasound test — to know the sex of her unborn child — the next time she is pregnant. She doesn’t spell it out, but it’s clear that a girl foetus will get aborted.

“If I don’t have a son our property will be claimed by my younger brother-in-law who has a son,” says Shikha, who stays with her mother-in-law and an unmarried older brother-in-law.

Clearly, despite the lack of single women in the village, families still yearn for sons. Take Sudesh Rani from Guwahati, who was married to Dinesh Dalal five years ago. Her family includes her husband, his two unmarried brothers and their mother. “Everyone wants a son here,” says Rani who has a four-year-old daughter. Rani doesn’t speak much, but her worries about not producing a son are written on her face.

That would explain India’s skewed sex ratio. In most parts of the world, including in the poorest of countries, girls outnumber boys for biological reasons. In India, the number of women has been declining significantly. In the 1991 census, 36.24 per cent men in the 15-44 age group in Haryana were unmarried. But in most cases it was not because of choice.

Little girls are not wanted, but brides are. It’s important for joint families in Jhajjar to have at least one daughter-in-law — for not just producing a male heir but to take care of household chores as well.

“You will find many families with one daughter-in-law and many sons. They buy a bride for the most eligible son and the rest are asked to rely on destiny,” says Dr Bharat Singh, chief medical officer, Civil Hospital, Jhajjar. Landless, illiterate and unemployed men figure at the bottom of the bride market list. “I fear very soon polygamy will be adopted as a practical solution to the shortage of brides,” says Jaswanti.

Some would argue that fewer women would mean a better status for them. But Chhara shows that it’s far from true. “Women are commodities,” says Rishi Kant, founder of Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based NGO which rescues women trafficked from West Bengal and Assam. “What value would one attach to something which has been bought for a price?”

Behavioural problems start from childhood in a society where there are fewer girls in schools and the neighbourhood. “Boys have very little interaction with girls in schools, because there are not many around,” says Krishna Devi, an anganwadi worker from the neighbouring village of Behrana, which has the lowest child sex ratio in the country — 378 girls per 1,000 boys.

But experts warn that the situation in places like Chhara and Behrana may worsen in the years to come. The widening sex imbalance may lead to spiralling socio-behavioural and medical problems. Kant believes the repercussions would range from an increase in rape cases and assaults against women to abduction and trafficking.

“The number of men visiting brothels would rise, leading to higher incidences of sexually-transmitted diseases and HIV-AIDS,” warns Rajesh Kumar, the co-author of a study on selective abortions published in a recent issue of British journal The Lancet. “We are yet to acknowledge the long-term social repercussions,” says Kumar, who is at the Chandigarh-based Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research.

For the present, the repercussions are being felt by the “imported” brides who rarely step out of their homes because of language and other cultural differences. “They are treated as social outcasts. The village women look down upon them,” stresses Kant.

Jaswanti believes the adverse ratio is affecting young men in another way — many are taking to drugs. “Substance abuse among the youth in Haryana is on the rise. It is largely due to their unmarried status in a society which places the utmost importance on marriage,” she reasons.

According to some estimates, by 2025, the group of 20-something in India will face a shortage of 11 million women. The number of “bare branches” — a term used in China to describe unmarried men without progeny — will keep increasing in India. The village of Chhara — with a name that’s almost like a Hindi slang for an unmarried young man — may soon be just that: a village of men.

Balurghat girl brought back from Gurgaon Back home, teen thanks employer


Balurghat, June 20: A 14-year-old girl trafficked away from here three years ago has been rescued from Gurgaon after the woman in whose house she had been working got in touch with police. The Balurghat-based Society for Participatory Action and Reflection, an NGO, brought Sujata (name changed) back to her home at Fatepur last night. The NGO members had taken the girl’s mother Sonamoni Tudu along with them to Gurgaon in Haryana.

Sonamani today lodged a written complaint with Balurghat police station accusing Sunil, reportedly a resident of Bansihari, of kidnapping her daughter three years ago by luring her with the offer of a lucrative job.

Sujata, frustrated with her father’s alleged regular torture on her mother for money, had decided to contribute to the family income and had home with a neighbour in 2008 to look for a job. The woman, her neighbour, took her to Sunil in Balurghat town, 8km away. Sujata met some other girls there who were getting ready to leave the state for “better opportunities”.

After a few days, Sujata with five-six girls left Balurghat in an express train. After two days’ ride, they reached, what later Sujata realised was Gurgaon. She was engaged in a house as a domestic help in Gurgaon.

The day’s work over, Sujata used to return to a slum where she used to stay with Sunil and his accomplice Sefali. They used to assure her that her wages were being kept with them and it would be given to her when she returned home.“But they never allowed me to come back home. I learnt that they had saved over Rs 30,000 from my wages during the past three years,” Sujata said.

In February this year Sujata joined as a domestic help in the house of one Namrata Sen.

“One day I narrated my plight in the hands of Sunil and Sujata to that kind lady. I told her that Sunil used to force me to sleep with him regularly. The lady then took me to the local police station and I could lodge a written complaint,” Sujata said.

The Gurgaon police then got in touch with the Delhi-based NGO, Shakti Bahini. It contacted the district magistrate of South Dinajpur, who, in turn, referred the matter to district welfare officer Bhaskar Basu. Basu entrusted the Balurghat-based SPA to bring the girl back. The team had left for Gurgaon on June 12.

South Dinajpur police chief Swapan Banerjee Purnapatra said efforts were on to arrest Sunil.

Court tells cops to 'physically' verify records of fake placement agency

New Delhi

Image via Wikipedia


NEW DELHI: Days after the police arrested two men for child trafficking, the Greater Kailash-based placement agency the men operated has come under the scanner. The Lajpat Nagar Child Welfare Committee has ordered the Lapat Nagar police to check all records of the Astha Placement Agency as “in all likelihood, there could be many more victims of child trafficking and sexual abuse who have received employment through this agency”.

In a written order (a copy of which is with TOI) the court has asked the police “to seize all records of the agency”. In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the court has ordered the investigating officer to “physically verify each placement to check whether any of its employees was working as a bonded labourer.” The CWC has also asked that “a detailed action taken report (ATR) should be submitted at the next hearing by the IO in person.”

“The police should also enlist the help of NGO Shakti Vahini whose research officer will offer his services to conduct door-to-door investigations,” said Raaaj Mangal Prasad, chairperson of the Lajpat Nagar CWC.

Earlier in the same case, TOI had reported how trafficked children below the age of 14 are sexually abused by fake placement agencies. The southeast district police had arrested the owners of a placement agency in East of Kailash for exploiting two girls aged 14, from Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, for the past one year. The accused were identified as Rajesh and Ranbir Singh.

The incident provoked the unified Anti-Human Trafficking Cell of the Delhi police, led by the crime branch, to consider slapping stringent sections under the Child Labour Act against anyone found employing children below the age of 14 in the city. “We have directed all officers to treat all child labour complaints seriously and prosecute the employer as well,” said additional DCP (crime) Pramod Khuswah.

The child trafficking racket was busted on June 8 when two minor girls were recovered from one of the platforms at Old Delhi Railway Station by the RPF. After a formal enquiry, the station police handed over the girls to PS Kalkaji where the girls revealed they had escaped from the Astha placement agency.

One of the minor girls, 14, was brought to Delhi from West Bengal a year ago by one Ranvir, the owner of Astha placement agency, through two women operatives based in Jalpaiguri. She was put to work in the house of Rajesh alias Tinku at Malviya Nagar. Later, she was shifted to Kalkaji where one Ashish, lived in a rented apartment.

“The girl said that she had been confined to a house, compelled to give body massages and had been sexually assaulted by Rajesh on several occasions. Later on, she managed to escape from the house along with another minor girl aged 14 who too had been tricked and brought to Delhi four days ago,” said Meghna Yadav, additional DCP (southeast). The other girl was forced to work at a house at Masjid Moth from 8 am to 11.30 pm but was not paid a single penny.

Sources in the crime branch said that these fake agencies paid Rs 20-25,000 to procure trafficked children, who they would then place at residential houses as domestic help or as labourers in small manufacturing units.

New van to help needy children

New van to help needy children

New van to help needy children


GURGAON: NGO Shakti Vahini which runs Childline (1098) inaugurated a new vehicle on Saturday at Bal Bhawan which will be used for the rescue of the children who are in need of aid and assistance. The vehicle was inaugurated by the joint commissioner of police, Alok Mittal.

On February 5 this year, a campaign, “cycle to liberate childhood”, was held which included a 320 kilometers ride from Gurgaon to Ajmer. The pedal yatri team used the funds generated during that campaign to sponsor the vehicle. The joint commissioner of police said that the introduction of the vehicle would help in the smooth functioning of the Childline and would ensure that and a greater number of children who are in need of assistance is benefitted.

Spl vehicle to rescue needy children




NGO Shakti Vahini that runs a child helpline (1098) flagged off a special vehicle on Saturday. The vehicle will be used to rescue children in need of aid and assistance. “This step will give a new dimension to the childline project through which many children can be saved from various kinds of exploitation,” said Alok Mittal, JCP. He added that the NGO has rescued more than 600 children in need of care and protection since its inception in 2006.

“Many of the children have been united with their family while the rest are in shelter homes,” the JCP added.