What makes Jharkhand the hunting ground of human traffickers

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BY DANISH RAZA IN THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

About 50 km south of Ranchi, in Khunti district, a narrow dirt road leads to Ganloya village.

Makeshift shops selling tobacco and mobile recharge cards are interspersed with thatched huts and tamarind trees in the hamlet of Panna Lal Mahto, allegedly one of India’s biggest human traffickers.

Despite the scorching heat, girls play barefoot in a clearing by a rice field. Nearby, a group of men sitting on a charpoy drink hadiya or rice beer. Of late, the village has been nicknamed Chora Ganloya — village of thieves — because of the growing number of young men turning to crime, primarily the trafficking of girls to ‘placement agencies’ in Delhi and the National Capital Region.

Khunti is one of five districts that form the Jharkhand belt — the others are Gumla, Simdega, Lohardaga and Latehar. The Jharkhand belt supplies domestic help to thousands of homes in Delhi and satellite towns such as Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad.

Unlike the state’s industrially developed districts, think Ranchi, Dhanbad or Bokaro, endemic poverty marks these districts, with more than 35% of the tribal population living below the poverty line. These pockets are also the Maoist war zones of Jharkhand.

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These factors make it prime hunting ground for traffickers such as 42-year-old Mahto, who had amassed assets worth over Rs 65 crore in Delhi and Jharkhand, having allegedly trafficked about 3,000 girls and women by the time of his arrest last October, the result of a joint operation by the Delhi police Crime Branch and the Jharkhand Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU).

“Most of these placement agencies are organised crime syndicates and they regularly indulge in trafficking of women and children. The business of placement agencies has been fuelled by huge demand of maids from eastern tribal states in the National Capital Region of Delhi,” noted the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) India Country Assessment Report, 2013.

About 4,000 children have gone missing in Jharkhand over the past 10 years. Of these, 1,000 are yet to be traced, according to the CID. Approximately 42,000 girls have been trafficked from Jharkhand to metropolitan cities, as per the NGO coalition Action against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC), making it a major hub of human trafficking in India.

Anubhuti Nag*, a tribal girl who will turn 18 next month, was among the first few girls in Patsera, a Naxal-affected village of about 100 families in Gumla district, to make the trip to Delhi.

Within two weeks of her arriving in the city, a man named Mukesh Kumar, a Jharkhand native in his late 40s running a placement agency, hired her for Rs 5,000 per month. Anubhuti’s job was to receive potential recruits at the railway station, bring them to the office of the agency, keep a check on about 50 girls placed across the city by the agency, and accompany the new recruits on their maiden visits to the homes of their employers.

girls_gonesGradually, Mukesh spotted a potential trafficker in Anubhuti and offered her Rs 10,000 for each girl she could get from her village to Delhi. One afternoon, Anubhuti discovered that the bag containing all her ID documents was missing. She confronted Mukesh.

“Don’t pay me, but please return my documents. I want to go home,” she reportedly said. When he wouldn’t listen, she became angry and slapped him. Enraged, Mukesh and two aides raped her, she says. The following week, Anubhuti was rescued in a joint operation by the Jharkhand and Delhi police, but the rape was not recorded or investigated, on her request.

Back in their villages, girls like Anubhuti find themselves out of place as the government does not run any programmes for their rehabilitation. Wearing branded jeans and a T-shirt, with a smartphone in her hand, she looks starkly different from the rest of Patsera’s inhabitants. She is more confident, speaks fluent Hindi with a smattering of English words such as ‘park’, ‘society’, ‘hello’ and ‘bye’.

The villagers call them ‘Dilli return’ girls. There are few prospects for them here. Anubhuti supports her family of five on her savings of Rs 25,000. She hasn’t thought about what she, or they, will do once that is exhausted.

Alakh Singh, member of the district child welfare committee, a quasi-judicial body, says that in addition to the financial insecurity, Anubhuti and others like her find it difficult to readjust to village life. This makes them vulnerable to re-trafficking, he adds.

The signs of distress are visible in the numerous child care institutions that have mushroomed across the state. And in the fact that many families do not come to claim daughters that have been rescued. Anjali Munda*, 15, a tribal from a village in Khunti and a trafficking survivor, has lost hope of ever being reunited with her parents. They were contacted by the police three months ago, but have stayed away.

At her Sahyog Village (Sahyog is Hindi for assistance) facility alone, there are more than a dozen survivors in the same predicament. “Some parents are not willing to take them back. Others don’t have the resources to support them,” says Altaf Khan of Sahyog Village.

As with most survivors, for Anjali too, the first point of contact in her ‘life-changing’ journey was an acquaintance based in the Capital — a friend’s cousin who worked in a jeans-manufacturing unit in Delhi. “He asked me if I wanted to see the city. One day I left with him without telling anyone. I think this is why my parents are angry with me and do not come to get me,” she says.

Weekly markets and village fairs, local buses, and crossroads in Ranchi city where villagers gather in search of work are points of contact for traffickers and potential victims.

“These chowks are also now becoming recruitment centres for agents who lure women and girls to Delhi for work,” noted a report on human trafficking in Jharkhand prepared by Shakti Vahini (Vehicle of Strength), an NGO working against organised crime.

While some leave without telling their families, there are parents who send their children off with ‘agents’ in the hope that they will find employment in a big city.

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Even those that are placed in jobs as promised end up isolated and dependent, forced to work as domestic help in slave-like conditions. Most are never paid.

ATSEC found that only 25% of the women who leave the Jharkhand belt with agents remain in contact with their families. “Usually, parents stop hearing from their children and the agents stop taking their calls,” says Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini.

Approaching police is a taboo in Naxalaffected villages, so many cases remain unreported. The women just disappear, and there is no one equipped to look for them.

In Gumla’s villages, the writing is literally on the wall. Messages warning people about human trafficking are scribbled on the exterior walls of houses and read, “Saavdhan. Kahin aapke bacche maanav vyaapar ka shikaar toh nahin (Beware. May your child not fall prey to those who trade in humans).”

Although the state government has taken some initiative to combat trafficking, establishing district child protection forces and special juvenile police units, implementation and enforcement are poor.

The result is that the trade continues unabated, even as Panna Lal Mahto and 75 others are lodged in Khunti prison, facing charges of trafficking.

“It’s like a flood. You stop the flow from one side, and it finds another way,” said Aradhna Singh, sub-inspector with the AHTU in Khunti, one of 225 such units set up across the country by the union home ministry in 2011-12. “According to our information, Mahto’s aides remain very active.”

Earlier this month, Mahto’s nephew, Manan*, a minor, was arrested at Ranchi railway station with three girls. None of the arrests seems to have deterred the rest of the trafficking network. The crackdown has just prompted them to modify their operations.

“Recruiting minor traffickers is a new trend,” Singh says. “It is difficult to prove their criminality in such cases. Even if it is proved, they will be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act and not the Indian Penal Code.”

Many traffickers now opt for Ranchi-Delhi Rajdhani train to evade the task forces that now watch the Jharkhand Sampark Kranti Express, dubbed the Slavery Express. “On the Rajdhani, you don’t raise suspicion. Who would expect a trafficker to travel in the second class coach of an air-conditioned superfast train?” says Baidnath Kumar, program officer at Diya Seva Sansthan, a grassroot organisation in Ranchi.

The market has changed too. “Some of the victims are sent to Haryana where there is a demand of brides… Jharkhand women and children have been also in high demand to work as bonded labour in Haryana and Punjab,” according to the UNODC report.

Will Jharkhand ever tackle its trafficking menace? Mahto offered a worrying perspective during his arrest. “I have given jobs to far more people than the state government has,” he reportedly said.

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Fears rise with floods, dam height – Vigil to stop trafficking

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TELEGRAPH

Guwahati, Sept. 15: Severe floods in Assam have fuelled fears of a spurt in trafficking of women and children from the ravaged areas of the state.

Police and NGOs are keeping vigil in the vulnerable areas since disasters have in the past caused largescale displacement of people, leading to migration, a situation that traffickers try to take maximum advantage of.

Shakti Vahini, an anti-trafficking NGO, said at least five minors from Assam, who were being trafficked to Delhi, have been rescued from trains in West Bengal and Bihar since August.

Deep Banerjee, regional project manager (North Bengal) of Shakti Vahini, told The Telegraph that on August 27 they had rescued a 16-year-old girl from Kokrajhar in Assam at New Jalpaiguri railway station and reunited her with her family.

“Another teenager from Dhubri in Assam was rescued at Katihar railway station in mid-August. At present, she is lodged in a shelter home at Araria since she is not been able to give the correct address of her village which is creating problems in locating her house,” he said.

“On September 3, two girls from Dhubri district, aged 15 and 16, were rescued from New Jalpaiguri railway station while they were being taken to Delhi by a suspected trafficker with the lure of employment. The trafficker managed to escape,” he added.

Banerjee said with floods hitting Assam, there could be a rise in trafficking of women and children from the vulnerable areas of the state. To prevent trafficking, the NGO is maintaining vigil on trains coming from Assam and at New Jalpaiguri, Siliguri junction and Delhi railway stations.

Director-general of police (CID) Mukesh Sahay said trafficking cases have been detected in the state in the past 15 days. He said it has been observed that post-disaster, both natural and manmade ones like riots, which cause displacement, incidents of trafficking are on the rise.

“We are aware of it and directions have already been issued to police, other government agencies concerned and civil society groups to remain alert and look for traffickers and their agents who become active in such situations,” Sahay said.

An official of the state social welfare department said people who have lost their agricultural land and homes due to erosion and floods are most vulnerable to trafficking since it becomes easy to take them to Delhi and other places with the lure of employment.

Digambar Narzary, chairperson of Nedan Foundation, a Kokrajhar-based anti-trafficking NGO, said the condition of the tarpaulin-roofed relief camps in Kokrajhar district, which shelter the riot-affected people from Adivasi and Bodo communities, had become pathetic following heavy rainfall in past weeks.

“Inmates of these camps are most vulnerable. Every week, we are getting two to three reported cases of trafficking from these areas,” he said.

Though there has been a steady improvement in the flood situation, even today 1,063 hectares of crop land and 62 villages are under water. Around 62 people have died in the latest wave of floods.

Shakti Vahini spokesperson Rishi Kant said there had been a rise in trafficking from Nepal after the devastating earthquake this year, from the Sundarbans after cyclone Aila hit Bengal in 2009 and the same could happen in Assam if preventive measures are not taken.

Sex Slaves For Middle East And ISIS Smuggled Through India

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BY SUMIT KUMAR SINGH IN THE SUNDAY STANDARD

Sex sells, or so the bizarre saying goes. Literally, thousands of women from India, Nepal and Bangladesh are sold every year to customers in the Middle East, and the slave markets and sex-prisons of ISIS fighters in Syria. New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are the transit points for these sex traffickers. In this web of horror, the predators and facilitators even include airlines and immigration officials. Months before the First Secretary of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in New Delhi, Majid Ashoor, and his Saudi friends were exposed for allegedly gangraping and brutally assaulting two Nepalese girls in his Gurgaon house, another 24-year-old Nepalese woman Reema (name changed) was sold to a middleman by her parents in Nepal. Her dismal fate would have dumped her in the international network of human traffickers to be sold in the booming sex slave market of the Middle East. She, along with six other unfortunates, were detained at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on July 27, when they were about to board a flight to Dubai. But the markets have expanded.

As the immigration desks at airports have been alerted about the trafficking, and documents as well as the travellers are verified and scrutinised carefully, sex agents have started sending women and girls first to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Morocco and Bangkok, and from there, have obtained visas for the Middle Eastern countries such as the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt and Syria. Africa has become the new thriving slave market for these girls with buyers coming from Tanzania and Kenya.

Police investigations into the L’Affaire Majid revealed a bigger network operating, even involving two Air India employees Manish Gupta and Kapil Kumar, who issued boarding passes for flights. In February 2014, Delhi Police and CISF, acting on an Intelligence Bureau alert, rescued 76 Nepalese girls travelling to Dubai from the clutches of traffickers and were repatriated back home. Sources said it is most likely  that they would be sold again to the highest bidder because they are promised lucrative jobs abroad, which would help them escape poverty and misery. On September 2, R&AW issued an alert to Delhi Police about Bangladeshi girls being trafficked from New Delhi to Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.  “An India-based unidentified contact reached out  on August 31 to his Bangladesh-based female associate and informed that he has ‘managed’ the necessary liaisons in New Delhi through which he would be able to obtain visas for Bangladeshi nationals for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Dubai,” the alert said.

The R&AW note also observed that the price for each girl was `6 lakh.  Similar alerts were issued by Central agencies on trafficking of women from Nepal, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the north eastern states of India.

Central agencies had alerted the Delhi Police, Bureau of Immigration and airport officials about the racket. “We receive alerts about women trafficked to the Middle East for sexual exploitation,” said a top senior police officer.

A senior police officer from Nepal is currently visiting Delhi to meet with Indian security agencies with details of girls missing from his country over the past two years, who are suspected to have been sent to the Middle East by Delhi-based traffickers. On September 11, he held meetings with various senior police and intelligence officers.

In May this year, Nepal’s Central Investigation Bureau shared information with Indian intelligence agencies that girls and women are being trafficked to Syria and are sold to ISIS terrorists as “sex slaves”. The Nepal government came across the information in April when it busted a group of traffickers, who sold the doomed females for merely `50,000 each to terror organisations in Syria to work in the sex trade.

The Nepal police agencies also said that the women are trafficked through India, especially Delhi. They had nabbed six Nepal-based agents and an Indian  trafficker, Tarun Rojan Khanagwal, who hails from Delhi.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Dinesh Gupta told The Sunday Standard that investigation in cases registered at Delhi airport reveals a vast network of traffickers using the airport as transit point.

The Reema case led to further revelations that more Nepalese girls were brought to Delhi and were given accommodation in Mahipalpur. The police conducted a raid on July 25 and arrested two Nepalese agents, Vishnu Tamang and Daya Ram. Twenty-one Nepalese girls  and women aged between 20 and 35 were rescued. They were to leave for Dubai.

The arrested Nepalese agents told the police that in the last two months,  they had trafficked more than 700 women to Middle East countries for `5,000 per person as commission.

“Delhi and Mumbai have become the transit points for trafficking of Nepalese and Bangladeshi and Indian girls and women,” said a top intelligence official.  In Delhi, around 106 women have been rescued so far this year; around 20 percent of them were bound for foreign shores. Last year, police rescued 235 women, while in 2013, the number was 160, including 43 from Nepal. In 2012, a total of 185 women and girls were rescued, of which 42 were from Nepal. But senior cops say the real figure of women being smuggled out for sexual exploitation is much larger. Shockingly, no database is maintained by any of the agencies. So far this year, police have arrested 62 human traffickers, including eight women, from Delhi. Last year, 199 were arrested, including 31 women.  In 2013, the figure was much higher with 286 arrests, which included 40 women.  The figures clearly suggest that Delhi Police has gone soft on human traffickers in the last two years.

A senior Delhi Police officer said, “It is very tough to detect girls who are more than 18 years old and are being trafficked to Middle East countries, since they leave the country with valid work permits.  Only late do they come to know that they will be forced into prostitution or  become bonded labourer.” He said that until their family members approach them with complaints, they are unable to know about the victim’s condition and moreover, they come from other states than Delhi.

With time, the traffickers have outsmarted the security agencies. Only novice agents send their prey abroad directly.  It is pertinent to note that there is no direct flight to Middle East countries from Kathmandu.  The Nepal Government has asked India to allow Nepal citizens to fly to the Middle East only after getting the necessary clearance from Protector of Emigrants.

“Emigration Clearance from the office of Protector of Emigrants is required for 18 countries—the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Brunei, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Syria, Lebanon, Thailand, Iraq (emigration banned),” said a senior Delhi Police officer.

Gurgaon victims among those trafficked after Nepal Earthquake?

Spurt in human trafficking from Nepal after April devastation, say Indian agencies

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By Devesh Pandey/ Published in The Hindu

Two Nepalese women sexually exploited allegedly by a Saudi Arabian diplomat in Gurgaon are victims of a well-developed human trafficking network operating from Nepal.

The number of women and children falling prey to the network has increased after April’s earthquake in the Himalayan nation.

Sources in Indian agencies say the two women are “luckier” than hundreds of other victims of highly organised networks operating from Nepal.

Though the exact numbers on forced migration of Nepalese nationals are not available, latest data with the Sashastra Seema Bal that guards the 1,751-km border with Nepal show a five-fold increase in trafficking post-earthquake.

Till April 24, the SSB registered eight cases involving 47 victims and 12 traffickers. As was feared by experts, the SSB began recording a significant increase in number of cases after the disaster struck.

Sources said 38 more cases had been recorded and 126 victims rescued with the arrest of 51 agents from Nepal, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Officials said immediately after the earthquake SSB’s Interaction Team and the 4,500-strong civil (intelligence) wing were activated to take preventive measures at 470 border outposts.

One of the first major human trafficking rackets unearthed after earthquake was by the Delhi Police had unearthed a major human trafficking racket with the rescue of 30 Nepalese girls at Delhi’s IGI airport in July.

“Governments of the bordering states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal have issued instructions to all the districts to check human trafficking along the border. In fact, the UP government has also got closed-circuit television cameras installed in the border districts for effective surveillance,” said Ravi Kant of non-government organisation Shakti Vahini.

There has been a gradual increase in the trafficking of Nepalese girls for commercial sexual exploitation in the past few years, officials in SSB and activists say.

A recent Central Bureau of Investigation study of the data available with Bureau of Immigration, Foreign Regional Registration Office, airline firms and major travel agents, indicated that up to 8,000 Nepalese girls had been trafficked to Dubai via Delhi airport to be pushed into prostitution in recent years.

The most common pretext employed was a projected tour to Nairobi via Dubai. But then the victims would be de-planed in Dubai, their tickets to Nairobi and hotel bookings cancelled.

Officials point out that the Nepalese government order barring women below 30 years of age from boarding a flight at Tribhuvan International Airport (Kathmandu) to major trafficking destinations if not accompanied by a family member, has only contributed to the trafficking syndicates using Delhi and other Indian cities for taking out their victims.

Traffickers have devises land routes, opening up several gateways along the Indo-Nepal border in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, most active entry points being Sunauli (UP) and Siliguri (West Bengal). “All the routes close to railway stations with links to major transits like Delhi are in use,” said an SSB officer. As per an estimate, there are about 100 unofficial border entry points with Nepal.

Expressing concern over the sudden increase in trafficking cases, Archana Tamang, international consultant at Human Rights and Equality in Kathmandu, told The Hindu: “The Nepal government will soon launch a survey to gather details of post-quake victims of trafficking. Good news is that on the Indian side, NGOs and police agencies have been taking effective measures. There is a need to check shady recruitment agencies involved in the racket.”

However, Mr. Kant pointed out, in many cases it becomes difficult for Indian agencies to take action in cases where Nepalese women are found travelling on genuine papers.

“In 2012, the CBI had in coordination with Shakti Vahini intercepted 70 Nepalese nationals. However, they had to be let off as they were carrying valid papers….all of them get lured by a better job prospect,” he said, adding that there is also a need for effective implementation of law by the Protector General of Emigrants to put a check on illegal activities of Indian recruitment agencies.

Job agencies front for exploitation

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PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

The horrifying details of the two Nepalese women raped, tortured and starved allegedly by the family of a Saudi Arabian diplomat and their visitors for over three months have come as a shock.

In August, an 18-year-old girl Mishti (name changed) was rescued from Sushant Lok Colony, Gurgaon, in a joint operation by Shakti Vahini, Childline Gurgaon and the police.

She was allegedly trafficked from her hometown in West Bengal by a person on the pretext of providing her a decent job in Delhi and later sold off to a placement agency at Taimur Nagar in New Delhi.

The agency later placed her in a household in Sushant Lok Colony as a domestic help, taking Rs. 30,000 as commission. She was promised Rs. 4,500 as monthly wage, which she never received as the agency took that away too.

The stories of the two Nepalese women and Mishti are similar to the hundreds of women so exploited. They are brought to cities like Delhi on the promise of a good life and better opportunities and sold off to illegally run placement agencies where they are exploited in every possible way. The exploitation continues even after placing them as domestic helps in urban households.

Gurgaon has emerged as a lucrative hub for such placement agencies involved in trafficking of minor girls and women from the interior areas of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

“The agents change the identity of the victims, even their name, age and address, to make them untraceable. The placement agencies, which mostly operate from Delhi, place the trafficked girls at the households for which they charge a commission of Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 60,000 from the employers,” Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini said.

Sushant Lok Colony and DLF Phase I, II, III are the main areas to which the placement agencies operating from Chakarpur, Bus Stand, Patel Nagar and Basai Road, among others, supply domestic helps. The agents take away the monthly wages of the victims leaving nothing for them.

Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rajesh Chechi said: “Complaints against these agencies were common in Gurgaon. But the police mostly register cheating cases because there is no law on registration of such agencies.”

Human Trafficking After the Nepal Quake

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Sex traders are on the lookout for potential prey in the ruins of quake-ravaged Nepal, and the country’s border with India has made it easier for human trafficking

PUBLISHED IN THE OPEN MAGAZINE

Like any other girl of her age, she had dreams of making it big. Hard-working and ambitious, she had left home in Surkhet district of Nepal to chase a new life in Kathmandu. Working in a restaurant, she quickly grew popular among the staff, thanks to her job dedication. However, dazzled by the big city and strained by the pulls and pressures of urban life, she was a drug addict by the time she was done with her teens.

Little did the 20-year-old Sindhu know that the earthquake of 25 April would shatter all that was left of her dreams. Wrecked, her restaurant had to shut down. She lost all touch with her family, and roamed around jobless and helpless for several days. That’s when a stranger appeared from nowhere, promising her a better life—in Dubai. As salary, she would get around Rs 1 lakh per month working as a dancer, which was more than ten times her pay of Rs 7,000. All the travel documents she needed would be arranged for her, she was told, once she crossed over to India. It seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime, and she did not take long to make up her mind. Her parents did not need to know.

From Kathmandu, she was taken on a bus to Bhairahwa, a border town near Sonauli in Uttar Pradesh, India. There were other girls in the same bus, she recalls, but she didn’t know any of them. After breakfast at a dhabain Bhairahwa, it was time now to cross the border. She stepped out and walked ahead just as she was told, even as the person accompanying her kept a safe distance. Past the Nepalese gate and across the 30-metre stretch of no-man’s-land, she was stopped at a checkpoint on the Indian side. A lady constable of the Sashashtra Seema Bal (SSB) had questions to ask of her, queries to which she had no answer.

With no documents to prove her claim of employment in a Delhi restaurant, Sindhu was handed over to Maiti, a Nepal- based NGO which works against human trafficking. “We informed her parents,” says Prabha Khanel, district co-ordinator of Maiti in Bhairahwa, “and they were so happy to hear of their missing daughter.” Sindhu refused to reveal the identity of the trafficker, insisting that she was making the journey by herself. “The trafficker had crossed the border before her,” says Khanel. Her parents broke into tears of joy on seeing theirr missing daughter again. “Maiti is like God,” says her mother, “they got us our daughter back.”

It was a happy family reunion, and the 20-year-old still has choices. “I am back with my parents,” says Sindhu, “But I am not sure what I will do now. I want to work again. Let’s see.”

Not all girls and young women are as lucky. After the earth quakes of late April and early May that shattered large parts of urban Nepal, human traffickers have swooped in to prey on human tragedy. Actual numbers are hard to come by, but a sudden surge in this evil activity is evident in the increased number of interceptions made at various Indo-Nepal border posts. Efforts are being made to stop it, but sadly, they’re not nearly enough.

Human trafficking from Nepal is not a new phenomenon. It was rife even before the earthquake. According to a 2001 study by the International Labour Organization, around 12,000 Nepalese children are taken illegally to India every year. With 2.8 million people left homeless (UN estimates) by the seismic events, however, women and children in the Himalayan country have become all the more vulnerable to the entreaties of those with sinister motives. In some ways, it was a nightmare foreseen. “We feared a surge in trafficking cases after the two earthquakes,” says Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef’s Nepal representative. “Loss of livelihoods and worsening living conditions have allowed traffickers to easily convince parents to give their children up for what they are made to believe will be a better life. Traffickers usually promise education, meals and a better future. But the reality is that many of those children could end up being horrendously exploited and severely abused.”

According to a Unicef report, in the one-and-a-half months since the quakes, at least 245 children have been rescued from being trafficked and unnecessarily or illegally placed in child-care homes. Things are no better even for adult women. The United Nations Population Fund has warned that more than 28,000 women may be at risk of gender violence in the aftermath of the quakes.

“The Indo-Nepal border has many points of vulnerability, as everyone wants to flee Nepal post the earthquakes. This has increased the risk of people falling in the net of human traffickers,” says YK Gautam, state coordinator of Action against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children, an Indian NGO that works in Bihar. He estimates that around 100,000 families crossed the border in just one month after the quakes.

The collapse of Nepal’s administration, with its attention diverted to saving the lives of those trapped under debris, gave traffickers the chance they were looking for. They started by meeting people at relief camps in the guise of offering aid, and then went on a recruitment drive. “The first incident that came to our notice was 10-15 days after the earthquake,” says Bindu Kunwar, supervisor at the Women and Child office in Nepalgunj district of Nepal. “At Mahendra Nagar naaka, 25 children were intercepted in a bus. On enquiring, it was found they were being taken to India. That raised the alarm.”

In May, 28 children were rescued from a garment factory in Ludhiana, India. “We have rescued 26 children from the clutches of human traffickers in just a month after the quake and sent them to rehabilitation centres,” says Sanjeev Kumar, a senior labour official in Bihar’s East Champaran district. The Maiti office in Nepalgunj has rescued 155 people so far, including 75 girls and 58 women. “The increase in trafficking can be understood from this pattern,” says Khanel. “At the Bhairahwa- Sonauli border, only nine cases of human trafficking were intercepted by us in April this year. It went up to 22 in May and further to 34 in June.” In July, 16 girls were rescued in Mumbai and sent to Bhairahwa by Rescue Foundation, Mumbai. “We kept them here for a few days until their family members arrived to take them back,” says Khanel. More recently, on 25 July, 21 Nepalese girls were rescued from Mahipalpur near Delhi’s airport. The girls were to be flown to Dubai.

India and Nepal share a 1,751 km long border and the amity between the two countries has meant that the security arrangements are light. Geographically, the terrain is largely plain, except for some hilly parts towards the Northeast. While there are 22 check-posts for trade, human transit is allowed at only six border points. But there is no fence to separate territories, and the border is so porous in parts of UP and Bihar that locals see no need for any documents to cross from one side to the other. On top of that, cultural affinity has meant that many families on either side are interrelated through marriage. There are also villages through which the border runs. All of this makes it harder to patrol the border to curb trafficking. “One can check the movement of people at check-posts, but it is practically impossible to monitor it in areas that comprise forests and inhabitants,” says Rajesh Mani, director, Manav Seva Sansthan, Gorakhpur, an NGO working to raise awareness of human trafficking as a scourge. “Patrolling is not possible in these areas, and even if it is there, how can you differentiate among people?”

The US State Department classifies India and Nepal as ‘Tier 2’ countries for trafficking, which implies the governments of these two do not fully comply with the standards put in place for its elimination; however, a visit to these parts makes it clear that heroic efforts are being made by people who care.

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Of many border points, the Rupaidiha-Nepalgunj one is perhaps the most vulnerable, given the poor infrastructure and abject living conditions on both sides. The 30 km concrete road from Rupaidiha to Nepalgunj takes more than an hour. The border formalities done, we cross over, drive another 3 km, and take a narrow lane to arrive at a shelter in Nepalgunj run by Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) under the Women and Child Department of the Nepal government. This is a temporary camp for rescued children. “We counsel the children,” says Indra KC, a counsellor at CWIN. “Sometimes they are so scared that they don’t open up.”

Guided into a play room, we see three children busy at a carom board. One of them, 13-year-old Rishi Raj, is asked to join us. “He came day before yesterday,” says Indra KC. The boy looks at us for a moment, before Indra KC interrupts with “He can speak in Hindi.”

Namaste,” says Rishi with folded hands, and starts narrating his story. A resident of Kathmandu, his father had married another woman and his mother another man. They both moved away, leaving him to fend for himself. It was his maternal grandfather who took him in. With his school forced to close by the earthquake, Rishi would wander around the city. One day, he says, he met a truck driver who promised to show him some nice places if he came along with him. “He told me that I would travel the world with him and then he would drop me at my grandparents’ home,” says Rishi. Without informing anyone, he decided to accompany the man in his truck, who took him to Nepalgunj and then crossed the border while he was asleep in the vehicle. The boy, the check-post was told, was his son.

It was only in Bahraich, 60 km from the border, that volunteers of Dehat, an Indian NGO, took notice of the boy. “He was looking lost and we started enquiring about him,” says Jitendra Chaturvedi, founder and chief executive of Dehat. “Initially, the driver tried to dodge us with his framed story, but he later tried to get away, leaving the boy.” The police were called in and they took the driver away. Rishi was handed over to the Women and Child Department of Nepalgunj. “When we asked him, he didn’t have any idea that he is in India,” says Chaturvedi.

At the shelter home, Rishi is trying to adapt. “While the other two children share a good camaraderie,” observes Indra KC, “Rishi mostly keeps to himself.” To safeguard children, Nepal’s government suspended international adoptions from the country right after the quake, and in early June, it also banned children from travelling between districts without parents or approved guardians. The registration of new orphanages has been suspended too, and existing one cannot induct new children without permission. The relocation of children from their home districts now requires prior authorisation from the Central Child Welfare Board.

But the trafficking of minors and young adults goes on. Chaturvedi says that just a few days earlier, a few girls were rescued by Sathi, another NGO based in Nepal. “We keep a strict vigil on border movements through our volunteers,” he says.

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Separating cases of trafficking from those of migration is not always easy. “We cannot stop migration, as it is their right,” says Khanel, “We just ensure that they have the required clearance from government authorities.”

While engaged in conversation with us, her mobile phone rings. It’s a call from Rabin Babu Regmi, a Nepali police inspector at the Bhairahwa-Sonauli border check-post. Two women, it seems, have been intercepted while trying to cross the border. Khanel gets ready to reach the border, around 4 km from her office. We take our own conveyance, and reach in five minutes too. Maiti volunteers show us into a small room, where the two women are. Khanel greets them with a smile, saying, “Aao behen (sisters, please come).” The women, one in her late teens and the other in her twenties, offer no response. They just accompany Khanel in her vehicle, and are taken to the first floor of the Maiti office, which has a hostel for their stay. They are offered food and water, and for the next hour, Khanel is busy talking to them in a closed room. “They are not saying much and we don’t want to trouble them right now,” she says, finally. “Our attempt would be to make them feel normal and at home, and in between we will counsel them.” They may stay at the Bhairahwa shelter for three months at most. If no one of their family comes for them in this period, or if they are unwilling to go back, they would be sent to Maiti’s office in Kathmandu.

Not all young women are taken back by their families. “Those who cross the border and are caught later on are often seen as a stigma on the family,” says Khanel, “Society starts to think that she might have been engaged in ‘illicit activities’, especially sex.” Maiti, however, offers them vocational training. “Our Kathmandu office runs programmes for empowering them with skills for their livelihood,” says Khanel. “Some of them need police or legal support, which is available there.”

There have been cases of families accepting women back after they started earning money. Such is the financial desperation. Even traffickers have started using vocational training as a lure. Many provide their victims dummy courses in ‘computers’ or ‘hotel management’, even printing fake diplomas and job offer letters to fool not only them but also the check-post personnel. But most of them end up at brothels or in jobs where they are sexually exploited.

Some are packed off to Gulf countries. “Most of them claim that they are married to a boy in India, or in some cases the trafficker does marry a girl to take her easily with him,” says Regmi of the Nepal Prahari. “We try to check the truth in their claims through the documents submitted by them.” Mehmood of Maharajganj, UP, tells us the story of his uncle’s family staying in Nepal. His uncle went missing after the earthquake, and her aunt along with her 14-year-old daughter headed back to Maharajganj. On the way, she started getting calls from places like Dubai and Kuwait. “These were marriage proposals for her daughter,” he says. “I was surprised how quickly they start luring families in distress.”

According to Rishikant of Shakti Vahini, an NGO in Delhi that works with the UP Police, offering them trafficking tip-offs, traffickers have recently started using Varanasi as a midway point. Since brothels get raided by the police, he says, they avoid taking the women there directly. “They promise jobs in the garment sector and even create fake companies.”

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“Human trafficking has emerged as the fastest growing criminal industry and is the second largest after drug trafficking,” says Dinbandhu Vats of the Delhi-based think-tank Pairvi. “Traffickers make nearly $32 billion annually without any investment.” India is both a popular transit point as well as a destination of human trafficking from Nepal. It acts as a base for women sent off to other countries, even as a large number find themselves in various places within the country.

The kingpins who run trafficking networks are extremely hard to catch. Those who do get caught are intermediaries, paid to do what they do. “There’s a long chain of people employed at every step in Nepal and India,” says Keshav Koirala, district coordinator, Maiti, Nepalgunj. But there are some names that keep cropping up. Koirala mentions a Nepalese woman called Kajol, who operates from Delhi. “She keeps changing her location. She is the kingpin of the trade in Delhi and western UP.” Regmi mentions one Anjum Nepali, a trafficker active along the Bhairahwa-Sonauli-Gorakhpur route. Maiti has a list of suspected traffickers that it shares with the police. One of the operators, Vishnu Maya Tamang from Nuwakot, Nepal, was arrested two years ago. Found to be ill, she was released last year. “There is no trace of her since then,” says Khanel, “and in all probability she might be active again.” Another woman trafficker, Dolma Tamang has been at large for the past year or so, evading the police dragnet and thought to be staying in India at present.

Not all traffickers are Nepalese. Indian groups are active as well. Chaturvedi says he recently submitted a list of 17 traffickers who are active in the region to the authorities. In some cases, FIRs have been filed at various police stations, but none of them is in custody. “We are constantly engaged with the SSB in the area to prevent human trafficking,” says Neha Pandey, SP, Bahraich. “Some NGOs are helping us too in tracing the culprits.”

The governments of Nepal and Indian border states have upped the vigil against trafficking, but volunteers are needed. Maiti has check-points at every border passage, where its volunteers in blue salwar and yellow kameezcan be spotted. There has been a series of official border meetings organised in which NGOs, locals administrations and NGOs from both sides have participated to work out how best to collaborate in curbing the menace. “All the security agencies posted at the border will have to be active to prevent trafficking,” says Sanjeev Gupta, DIG, Gorakhpur range. “We are also setting up offices of the Anti-Human Trafficking (AHT) cell at the border.”

But there are flaws in the system that need to be addressed. Anti-Human Trafficking cells have been established in 37 border districts of UP. “But the officers are not trained and equipped to handle the situation,” says Rajesh Mani. “Till date, there is no standard operating procedure to guide them on how to deal with trafficking. In most cases, traffickers get away with easy charges rather than being booked under Section 4 and 5 of India’s Immoral Traffic Prevention Act.”

Adds Vats, “The poor compliance with legal protocol coupled with weak enforcement machinery, delays in justice delivery and low conviction rates encourage traffickers to continue their lucrative trade in both countries.” Rehabilitation efforts are not adequate either. “This results in re-trafficking,” says Vats.

This May, four girls were rescued by Indian paramilitary forces and handed over to Nepal’s police. The same girls had been rescued by Sathi earlier, but they somehow ended up in the clutches of traffickers again—using a different route this time. “Traffickers think much faster than we can come up with solutions,” says Chaturvedi. “The issue needs better efforts from various departments of the Government. What we are doing is only to resolve one part of the problem.”

Battered and bruised, some return, some are never to be seen again..

180777_10150095433357197_5102103_nBy N Sai Published in the DNA News

In the last of the three-part series, dna travels to remote villages of India’s ‘slavery belt’, some of the remotest and backward areas of Jharkhand. Rescued slaves and the parents of those who have never come back reveal what makes these tribals easy targets

Ranchi: The road to Jahupkokotoli village in the Maoist-hit district of Gumla is a contradiction of sorts. As the two-lane road snakes through the forests and rolling hills of the Chottanagpur plateau, bauxite-laden trucks are the only constant reminder of activity here. Yet the public transport to this part of Jharkhand from the state capital Ranchi is rickety. The only bus everyday is as uncertain as life in this extremely backward region of India. Despite the lack of public transport, thousands of tribal boys and girls from Gumla-Khunti-Simdega region, India’s unofficial ‘slavery belt’, are transported and trafficked to upper middle class and rich homes of Delhi. After a period of enslavement and unpaid forced labour, many return battered and bruised. Some are never to be seen again. Some still carry on.

In Jahupkokotoli, an aboriginal hamlet of 160 Oraon tribal families, 45-year-old Mathoo comes running with a picture of his 14-year-old daughter. “Help me find her. I haven’t seen her after she went away in 2007,” says Mathoo. His daughter would be 21 now, but Mathoo doesn’t know her fate after she was taken by a ‘placement agent’ from a neighbouring village to Delhi to work as a domestic help. Within two months, the agent sent Mathoo Rs 1000 as a payment for his daughter’s ‘services’. Next year, he called up the agent again to inquire about his daughter. “The agent said that my daughter had run away and that he did not know her whereabouts. I do not know whether she is dead or alive,” says Mathoo.

A few houses away from Mathoo’s is the hut of Hari Oraon. His 16-year-old daughter Pramila was taken by an agent to Delhi in early 2014. But she ‘escaped’ within four months and came back. According to her statement to police, Pramila was taken to Delhi by another woman of the same village in the promise of a better life. As soon as she arrived in Delhi she was escorted to a Shakurpur-based placement agency by an agent. They took her finger prints on a piece of paper and sent her to work as a domestic maid at three different homes in Delhi. Facing ill-treatment and not having been paid by any of her employers or the placement agency, Pramila escaped. Lost on the streets in Delhi, she begged another woman to take her home. The woman instead handed her over to the Delhi police. The Delhi police handed her over to a shelter home in the capital from where she was taken to Kishori Niketan, a rehab centre for trafficked women in Bijupara, Jharkhand. Finally in April 2014, she was re-united with her family. For her work as a domestic help in Delhi, Pramila wasn’t paid any money. “The police left her in nearby Bishunpur from where we picked her up and got her home,” says Hari Oraon. “She says she will never go back to Delhi.”

Off the road from Bishunpur lies the Dalit village of Hadiya Toli, literally translating into ‘wine village’. There is no road connectivity to the village and reaching here requires walking a kilometre on a dusty track. The name of 15-year-old Sarita alias Budhni evinces a peculiar response from the village men. “That Dilli-return?”, one asks with a wry smile. “Who knows where she is,” says another. “Ask her mother. She might know.” We find her mother working outside her hut and as the conversation about her daughter nears completion, she says, “Who will marry her now? Who knows what might have happened to her in Delhi?”

Sarita disappeared from her house in 2013 with five other girls after an agent in her village promised her lucrative money in Delhi. Sarita says, “I was promised a monthly wage of Rs 5000. After working four months for an agency in Motinagar in Delhi, I asked for some money. They refused and locked me up instead. I begged to let me go home. But they said I cannot go home before I completed five years. Then one day the police raided the place and they took me in their custody,” says Sarita. She was finally sent home in April 2013.

“There were other girls in that house. I do not know what happened to them. I did not even get the money for my work,” says Sarita. When asked about the nature of her work, Sarita maintains an uneasy silence. Sarita is lucky enough to be back in her village. Even though her village doesn’t have either electricity, drinking water supply or roads, she feels safer here than in any of Delhi’s slave holes.

Phulin Murmu, 18, however doesn’t want to return to her village. Phulin Murmu is not a name that would ring a bell. But when she was found burnt, battered and bitten in a house in South Delhi’s posh Vasant Kunj locality it made national headlines in October 2013. She was found in the house of Vandana Dhir, an executive with a French multinational. Murmu’s body bore hot girdle-induced burn marks, deep scars on the head and bite marks all over her body. She was forced to drink urine, prevented from using the bathroom and confined in the house in a semi-naked condition before being rescued. She was working unpaid for two years before being rescued.

DNA tracked her down at a rehabilitation centre in Khunti, one of the hardest hit districts of the slavery belt. She is being educated and trained at the Mahilya Samkhya Society, which she shares with around 30 other minor girls, many of whom are rescued slaves. Phulin can barely write her name, the scars still show on her face. But she details her three years of enslavement with a brave face and with no emotion. “It is for the first time that I am seeing her talk so openly. It seems she is recovering well from the trauma,” says Asha Kusum, the warden of the institution. The Mahilya Samkhya Society is wary of letting Phulin rejoin her parents in her village. They ask her father to come to town for Christmas. They don’t want to take a chance again. “Most kids are from extremely poor tribal families. Their parents will send them to Delhi for any small amount. Phulin is safe here – from poverty and from agents who would want to prey on her again. She is still scared inside. She will only get better,” says Ms Kusum