KOLKATA: More than 13,000 women and children from Bengal went untraceable in 2011. Where did they go? Were they abducted? Were they sold for money? Are they still alive? None has an answer. The year before, around 28,000 women and children went missing and 19,000 of them remained untraceable.
Missing women and children are ever increasing numbers in government files and reports by various organizations. But for their families, the hope never dies. they are lives, dearer than their own.
The Barui (name changed) family of Madhyamgram spent sleepless nights when their 16-year-old daughter did not contact them for more than six months. Last year, a neighbour took her along with him to Burdwan promising her a get her a governess’ job at a doctor’s house in Burdwan. Never could her mother and brother imagine that she would land up in a dingy hotel in Ahmedabad where she will be forced into prostitution.
The girl was lucky enough to get a chance to call her brother after six months. Her brother got in touch with the local police, who sent a team and conducted a joint raid with the Ahmedabad police. But not all are lucky like this girl.
The recent report of United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) titled ‘Anti Human Trafficking, 2013’ revealed that out of over 19,000 women and children reported missing in West Bengal in 2011, only 6,000 could be traced.
The report, currently with the Union home ministry, gives the number of women and children went missing between 2009 and 2011. Bengal, with a huge porous international border (2,217 kms with Bangladesh, 92 kms with Nepal and 175 kms with Bhutan)
tops the list. From Jalpaiguri in north to North and South 24 Parganas in south Bengal almost all districts of the state are vulnerable to trafficking.
On the northern side districts like Darjeeling, North and South Dinajpur, Cooch Behar and Malda having international borders with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan are identified as trafficking prone. The districts of North and South 24 Parganas are other vulnerable areas prone to trafficking on the southern side.
“The prevalence is highest in three districts in Bengal, including Murshidabad, North and South 24-Parganas. It mostly poverty-driven and can only be stopped with a large-scale livelihood programmes,” a senior IPS officer who was closely associated with an anti-trafficking drive in the state, said. “In 2001, number of missing children in West Bengal was 368 whereas in 2010 the figure was 8,599. In 2010 the number of missing women from Bengal stood at 6,514, compared to only 196 in 2001 the number of missing women was 196 whereas in,” the report said.
“Natural disasters leading to poverty and a general condition of hunger are two major reasons. Lack of awareness and declining value system are other factors,” said Manabendra Mandal, director of Socio-Legal Aid Research and Training Center. “The figures quoted by UNODC seems lower than the actual as they are based on police records. But in several cases these are not reported,” Mandal said.
Children and women from Bengal are mostly trafficked to Delhi, Mumbai and Pune, revealed the study. After this the destinations are Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. Some new destinations that have been identified are Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Haridwar, the report found after ten months of intensive consultations with various government and non-government stakeholders.
“The challenge lies in getting it reported when a victim is being trafficked. In order to reach out to people, we want to promote the reporting of cases of missing children through cellphones,” said Manabendra Nath Ray, deputy programme director, Save The Children, India. “To report a missing child or sighting of an unaccompanied child, a member of the public will call a dedicated number to report the case,” he said.
Shakti Vahini, one of the NGOs active in trafficking issues, felt that CID has been able to increase tracing of trafficked victims. The United nations office points out that despite legal provisions there has been increasing reports of women being trafficked into prostitution in the name of domestic workers or stage performers in Middle East countries. Illegal recruitment agencies are very active in the North East, North Bengal, Kerala and Maharashtra.