Nepal girls trafficked into India up by 500% in last 5 years: SSB report

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HIGHLIGHTS

  • The study by Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) claims the number of victims brought illegally into India has gone up by 500% since 2013
  • SSB says they are then forced into prostitution or pushed to into domestic help or other forms of exploitative labour

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A study conducted by border guarding force Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) on “Human Trafficking on Indo-Nepal border” claims the number of victims brought illegally into the country has gone up by 500% since 2013 with girls trafficked from villages and Terai region of Nepal sold to brothel owners in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and other cities for up to Rs 50,000.

In 2013, 108 girls/children were rescued at Indo-Nepal border, while 607 such victims were rescued in 2017.

Calling Nepal the “source” country for most of the trafficking of children and women to India, SSB says they are then forced into prostitution or pushed to into domestic help or other forms of exploitative labour, and in a few cases their organs are illegally harvested.

Quoting statistics of Nepal’s women and social welfare ministry, according to which 26 of Nepal’s 75 districts are trafficking prone, SSB says that most women/children at risk are from the hills and of schedule castes, but members of higher castes are also trafficked into India.

The traffickers, men (often called ‘dalals’) and women (‘didis,’ who are sex workers themselves), bring the girls aged 9 to 16 – to border towns before they are brought to India by bus. Near the border, professional agents who lure the girls for selling in the brothels are paid up to Rs 6,000 for every child. Apart from the ‘didis,’ SSB says, sometimes family members also act as traffickers. The girls are coached to conceal their true age in case they are stopped and questioned by the police.

Discussing the routes taken by traffickers, SSB says Nepalese girls from villages are first taken to Kathmandu, either to the guest houses or carpet factories, or from there to border towns in Nepal, where they are sold to “brokers.”

“The brokers then travel by bus or by train to Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi or even to smaller cities and sell these girls to a brothel owner or madam (referring to female agents in India) for up to Rs 50,000. Most brokers travel by local buses to Delhi, and then Mumbai by train,” says the SSB research, exclusively accessed by TOI.

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Some of the brothel owners, SSB says, are politically connected and hence, are not convicted.

 SSB says peak trafficking months in Nepal are between June and late August or early September when ‘didis’ return to their villages and recruit girls to bring to Indian cities. “At this time of the year (June to August), every mountain village of Nepal suffers from more than the usual level of poverty, while they wait for new harvests,” says SSB.

Quoting a recent Indian government survey, SSB says 60% of women/children working as commercial sex workers do so out of poverty or economic compulsion.

 

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Anti-human trafficking bill: Centre’s move to assign understaffed NIA as nodal agency is counter-productive

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Look at the statistics. The NIA was set up in December 2008 following the Mumbai terror attack and its mandate was that the government needed a central counter-terrorism investigative body to look into serious offences related to the sovereignty, security and integrity of the country.

It presently has a strength of 650 people. Their annual budget is around Rs 100 crore per annum. Almost a decade later, they have registered and investigated around 160 cases for which decisions have been given in 27 cases.

Can such an understaffed organisation, which is already tackling the gigantic footprint of terrorism across the subcontinent, be in a position to take on and investigate cases of human trafficking? Especially given that more people are being trafficked today than ever before in history, according to the Global Report on Trafficking.

The scale of human trafficking is mind-boggling. There are 27 million adults and 13 million children who are victims of trafficking. India, with its burgeoning population, is regarded as one of the main hubs of the trafficking trade. Statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau state that over 20,000 women and children were victims of trafficking in 2016 but most NGOs believe this figure is just the tip of the iceberg.

Last month, the cabinet went ahead and cleared the draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill. The bill was introduced in Parliament earlier this month but many parliamentarians feel it should first be referred to a parliamentary standing committee for a detailed discussion.

Regarding the amendment to the National Investigation Act 2008, which will empower the NIA to investigate cases of trafficking, officials of the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) point out that it will require a separate amendment by the Parliament. The NIA is presently in the process of looking into these changes and is expected to give its recommendations shortly.

According to MWCD officials, with the NIA brass complaining of a shortage of funds to undertake their present investigation, funds from the Nirbhaya Fund for the safety of women will be transferred to NIA in order to set up a cell for investigating human trafficking.

Dr Ajay Sahni, executive director of Institute for Conflict Management, has strong views on whether the NIA is in a position to investigative a problem of this magnitude. “The government is looking for shortcuts especially since prostitution and human trafficking are giving India a bad reputation. Policing is a state issue. The Centre can play a coordinating role. What the Centre needs to do is set up a central authority which can investigate cases on their own. The only other body which could have taken up cases in this manner is the CBI but they already have their hands full,” Sahni said.

He also expressed surprise at how the NIA is being sucked into this ambit especially since, during the present NDA regime, the NIA is being expected to investigate ‘love jihad’ cases in the south.

“During the last two years, the NIA has been asked to look into love jihad cases which are linked to Hindutva. If this is not an abuse of an institution then what is?” Sahni said.

IG of police (NIA) Anil Shukla, who is also wearing the hat of CVO, pointed out that it was too early to give his assessment of whether the NIA could handle this additional work. “The law is under consideration. So, it is too early for me to make a comment on it,” Shukla said.

Enakshi Ganguly, co-director of HAQs: Centre for Child Rights feels, “it is the local police who need to be trained and empowered because most of the trafficking is taking place in small towns. From the start, we have been saying that we need to have a strong protective mechanism in place to take care of the children. This mechanism can operate as Village Level Child Protection Committees and can provide a safety net for the kids.”

Ganguly suspects that linking terrorism and trafficking will only serve to dilute the seriousness of the existing situation which is loaded against women and children. “Linking the two together, which seems to be an attempt by the present government, will do injustice to both these complex and multi-layered issues,” said Ganguly

Rishi Kant, who runs the NGO Shakti Vahini, believes the MWCD move to allow NIA to look into trafficking and prostitution cases is a welcome step.

Kant has helped train the police and BSF personnel in West Bengal and Jharkhand to help combat trafficking. “Our training and inputs have really helped the state police of these states to crack down on traffickers and that reflects on the graph in these states, which are showing a downward trend. If the NIA is brought into this ambit, with proper training, we can create a crack force to track down traffickers in a big way,” Kant said.

On 16 March, 2018, Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi sought to introduce the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018 ( commonly called the Anti-Trafficking Bill). The new bill does not redefine trafficking but incorporates the existing definition under section 370 IPC.

Advocate Tripti Tandon, deputy director of Lawyers Collective, has come out strongly against this new bill which she points out has simply created a new category of ‘aggravated’ forms of trafficking, which carry a minimum sentence of ten years that may extend to life imprisonment.

Some of the aggravated forms of trafficking that have been introduced in the new Bill are: Trafficking for the purposes of forced labour, begging, marriage and childbearing. But, these are already criminalised under Section 370 of IPC. In fact, according to the National Crime Record Bureau in 2016, the police registered 10,357 cases of trafficking for forced labour, 349 cases of trafficking for forced marriage and 71 cases of trafficking for begging.

So, the new bill divides various offences into “trafficking” and “aggravated trafficking”. The former category of crimes would carry a jail term of seven to 10 years and the latter would carry a punishment of at least 10 years in jail, which can be extended to life imprisonment. Aggravated offences will include forced labour, bonded labour, forced surrogacy, use of narcotics to induce forced labour, trafficking in the garb of marriage and those that lead to a pregnancy or grave illness such as HIV/AIDS.

The bill also moots three years in jail for abetting, promoting and assisting trafficking. The law recommends a national anti-trafficking relief and rehabilitation committee to be headed by secretary WCDM. It also suggests setting up of a rehabilitation fund and prescribes a process to be followed for repatriation of trafficked persons.

Tandon asserts that to claim that these are ‘new’ forms of trafficking that are not addressed under existing laws is totally baseless. She cites the example of one so-called ‘new offence’ of administering hormones or committing trafficking by administering alcohol or drugs but adds that this has already been incorporated in section 328 of the IPC.

The existing response is patchy and scattered across different laws, which approach trafficking from varied, and sometimes, inconsistent objectives.

For example, while the new law focuses on removing and evicting sex workers from their occupation, the Bonded Labour Act protects the worker who was held in bondage from being evicted from the place where the individual has been working.

Tandon believes the need was for a comprehensive law that was expected to harmonise different approaches and integrate existing laws into one. The new Anti-Trafficking Bill does not do that. All it does is add yet another legislation to the already fragmented landscape of laws on human trafficking, further complicating the legal framework and its enforcement.

Activists point to how in the past, proposals to reform anti-trafficking laws were preceded by a great deal of research. To cite one example, in 2002-2003, the National Human Rights Commission had conducted a countrywide study of the problem and produced two voluminous reports on “Trafficking in Women and Children in India”. Findings of the NHRC report prompted the MWCD to move the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) (Amendment) Bill, 2006.

Similarly, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, which led to the enactment of Sections 370 and 370A of the IPC against trafficking and exploitation of a trafficked person respectively, were based on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee Report, 2013, in relation to laws on sexual offences.

The Anti-Trafficking Bill has not been preceded by any substantial research or analysis. The same ad hoc approach has been applied to get the NIA to start the whole process of investigation on trafficking and prostitution.

Although this is not part of the present Anti-Trafficking Bill, there is no doubt this move has also not been thought through thoroughly.

Instead of focusing on better policing and inter-state co-ordination to stop trafficking, getting an understaffed NIA to investigate these crimes will only serve to muddy the water further.

Hyd police rescues 26 child labourers, human trafficking accused held.

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Women and Child Welfare Department, Labour Department, and others along with police conducted the rescue operation.

Police are collecting the useful data from the children, who will be shifted to Saidabad children home. (Photo: ANI)

Police are collecting the useful data from the children, who will be shifted to Saidabad children home.

The Hyderabad police rescued 26 children, allegedly working as “bonded labourers” and nabbed a person, who was involved in trafficking these minors.

Speaking to ANI, Hyderabad’s District Child Protection officer, Md Imtiaz Raheem said, “We have a received a information from an NGO that some employers are bringing 200 child labours in Dhanapur express train.”

Women and Child Welfare Department, Labour Department, and others along with police conducted the rescue operation.

According to the police, most of the rescued children were from Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

Police are collecting the useful data from the children, who will be shifted to Saidabad children home.

Investigation in the matter is underway.

यहां हर दूसरे दिन एक बच्चा हो रहा तस्करी का शिकार, दिल्ली-मुंबई में बिक रहा बचपन

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यहां हर दूसरे दिन एक बच्चा हो रहा तस्करी का शिकार, दिल्ली-मुंबई में बिक रहा बचपन

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चाईबासा, [मोहम्मद तकी]। झारखंड का पश्चिम सिंहभूम जिला मानव तस्करी का केंद्र बन चुका है। इस जिले से हर माह 10 से 20 बच्चों की तस्करी हो रही है। किसी माह यह आंकड़ा 30 के भी पार पहुंच जाता है। इसकी खास वजह यहां व्‍याप्‍त गरीबी और अशिक्षा है। पैसों के लोभ में लोग अपने बच्चों को तस्करों के हाथों बेच देते हैं। इसके बदले तस्कर उन्हें मामूली रकम ही देते हैं।

80 फीसद मामलों में बच्चों को तस्करों के हाथ में देने वाले परिवार के जानकार ही होते हैं, जो परिवार के मुखिया को लालच देकर नाबालिग को काम के लिए दिल्ली, मुंबई, चेन्नई समेत अन्य बड़े शहरों में भेजते हैं। वहां से उनका रैकेट इस कार्य को करता है। जरूरत की जगहों पर बच्चों का दाम तय कर उन्हें काम पर लगाया जाता है। एक साल के अंदर मानव तस्करी के 205 मामले बाल संरक्षण विभाग के पास आए हैं। इस प्रकार देखा जाए तो हर माह 17 से भी अधिक बच्चे मानव तस्करी के शिकार हो रहे हैं। यानी हर दो दिन में एक मासूम जिंदगी को दल-दल में धकेल दिया जाता है।

पश्चिम सिंहभूम जिले के चक्रधरपुर, गोईलकेरा, सोनुवा, मनोहरपुर, गुदड़ी व आनंदपुर प्रखंड में सबसे ज्यादा मानव तस्करी के मामले सामने आ रहे हैं। इसकी एक वजह इन्हीं प्रखंडों के आसपास से गुजरने वाली मुख्य रेल लाइन भी है। मुंबई, दिल्ली समेत देशभर के लिए इसी मार्ग से लंबी दूरी की ट्रेनें गुजरती हैं। इससे तस्कर गरीब बच्चों को आसानी से दूसरी जगहों पर लेकर चले जाते हैं।

बाल संरक्षण विभाग दिखा रहा सही राह

साल 2017 में छुड़ाकर लाए गए 200 से अधिक बच्चों में जिला बाल संरक्षण विभाग की ओर से विशेष आवासीय बालक विद्यालय मनोहरपुर में 15 बालकों का नामांकन कराया गया है। जबकि 10 बच्चों का नामांकन इसी मार्च के महीने में कराया जाना है। इसी तरह जिले के विशेष आवासीय बालिका विद्यालय में 9 बच्चियों के नामांकन के लिए सूची भेजी गई है। दो बच्चियों को कस्तूरबा आवासीय विद्यालय और दो बच्चियों का एकलव्य विद्यालय में नामांकन कराने की तैयारी चल रही है। इस माह के अंत तक इन मासूमों का नामांकन हो जाएगा।

कागज पर चल रहा काम

झारखंड में 14 जुलाई 2011 को चार थानों को एंटी ह्यूमन ट्रैफिकिंग यूनिट के रूप में अधिसूचित किया गया था। इनमें गुमला, सिमडेगा, दुमका और खूंटी जिले के नगर थाने शामिल थे। बाद में रांची, पश्चिम सिंहभूम, लोहरदगा और पलामू को भी इसमें शामिल कर लिया गया। पश्चिम सिंहभूम जिले की स्थिति यह है कि ह्यूमन ट्रैफिकिंग यूनिट बस नाम के लिए काम कर रही है। यहां पीड़ित बच्‍चों का न तो ठीक तरह से डाटा उपलब्‍ध है और न ही मानव तस्‍करों की कोई सूची या रिकॉर्ड। थाने का चक्‍कर न लगाना पड़ जाए, यह सोचकर कई बार मानव तस्‍करी के शिकार परिवार मामला तक दर्ज नहीं कराते हैं।

एंटी ह्यूमन ट्रैफिकिंग यूनिट को करना है यह काम

इस यूनिट का गठन बच्चों, युवतियों और महिलाओं की तस्‍करी रोकने के लिए किया गया था। यूनिट को जिले में मानव तस्करों का डाटाबेस तैयार करना था। इसे स्‍वतंत्र इकाई घोषित किया गया था। एक यूनिट में 12 पुलिस अधिकारी के पद सृजित किए गए थे। वाहन और कैमरे आदि देने की बात कही गई थी। लेकिन पश्चिम सिंहभूम जिले में यह पूरी तरह जमीन पर नहीं उतर पाया है।

चाईबासा के उपायुक्त अरवा राजकमल कहते हैं, मानव तस्करी की जानकारी होने के बाद तत्काल पुलिस कार्रवाई करती है। इसके लिए लोगों को जागरुक करने का कार्य भी किया जा रहा है। किसी प्रकार की कोई घटना से जुड़ी जानकारी हो तो तुरंत 100 नंबर पर कॉल कर जानकारी दे सकते हैं। इसके अलावा इसे रोकने के लिए भी विशेष तैयारी जिला प्रशासन की ओर से की जा रही है।

मानव तस्‍करी से झारखंड के ये जिले हैं प्रभावित

पश्चिम सिंहभूम, खूंटी, गुमला, रांची, गढ़वा, साहेबगंज, सिमडेगा, गोड्डा, लातेहार और लोहरदगा। इन जिलों से आए दिन तस्‍कर गरीब युवतियों और बच्‍चों को रोजगार दिलाने के नाम पर ले जाते हैं।

मानव तस्करी से जुड़ी प्रमुख बातें

– पश्चिम सिंहभूम जिले में वर्ष 2014 से 2016 के बीच मानव तस्करी के कुल 309 मामले सामने आए।

पश्चिम सिंहभूम का मानव तस्करी के मामले में राज्य में दूसरा स्थान है।

– सुप्रीम कोर्ट के आदेशानुसार भूले हुए बच्चे हों अथवा मानव तस्करी के शिकार बच्चे, सभी की प्राथमिकी मानव तस्करी एक्ट के तहत दर्ज करनी है।

– पश्चिम सिंहभूम में मानव तस्करी रोकने के लिए एक इकाई भी गठित की गई है। यहां मामले दर्ज होते हैं।

India’s first anti-human trafficking law proposes life term for repeat offenders

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The bill, reviewed by HT, also proposes a jail term of at least a year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for those who abet trafficking or fail to protect a victim.
A trafficking victim who was rescued, in Jharkhand.

A trafficking victim who was rescued, in Jharkhand.(Vipin Kumar/HT File Photo)

Life imprisonment for repeat offenders, special courts and dedicated police units are part of key provisions in India’s first law to tackle human trafficking that is likely to be taken to Parliament for approval in the current session.

The bill, reviewed by HT, also proposes a jail term of at least a year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for those who abet trafficking or fail to protect a victim; and seven years and Rs 2 lakh fine for the owner or manager of a property that has been used for the crime.

Around 8,100 cases of trafficking were recorded in India in 2016 and around 23,000 victims of trafficking were rescued that year, according to National Crime Records Bureau figures that experts call a “mere tip of the iceberg”. Currently, trafficking is covered by a clutch of laws that often delay trials but the government has been working on an umbrella legislation for more than two years.

“The bill — Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2017 — is ready and we will take it to Parliament in the Budget session, itself,” said an official involved in the process, asking not to be named.

“In India, life imprisonment does not mean jail for life but usually for a defined period which is generally more than 7 years. But this Bill clearly specifies that for repeat offenders and for those who have committed aggravated form of trafficking, jail term will be for the remainder of the offender’s life,” said the official.

“No person accused of committing an offence under this Act shall be released on bail or on his own bond…,” read the bill, reviewed by HT.

Since trafficking usually involves interstate gangs, the bill proposes district-level “anti-trafficking unit” with an “anti-trafficking police officer”, and a designated sessions court for speedy trials.

State governments need to create a Rehabilitation Fund that will allocate financial resources for protection homes, legal assistance to victims and skill development programmes. The fund will also be used for victim and witness protection and for generating awareness to prevent human-trafficking.

“Section 370 of the IPC is a very strong law to deal with human-trafficking, but this bill becomes important as victims require support such as rehabilitation, witness protection etc. Also a central bill would mean budgetary support to deal with the monitoring and prevention of human-trafficking,” said Ravi Kant, president, Shakti Vahini, an NGO working to prevent human-trafficking.

3 more arrested for human trafficking

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Three more accused in international human trafficking racket were arrested by unit III crime branch on Friday and Saturday. While Pyara Singh Gotara was arrested on Friday, Jarnel Singh Gotara and Rajinder Singh Atwal were picked up on Saturday.

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The number of arrested accused has now gone up to ten. Police said that 57 youngsters were trafficked from the city to North America, Europe, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi, apart from Maharashtra.

According to police, of the ten arrested, two accused would create fake bona fide and school leaving certificates. The youngsters were trafficked to shops, construction sites, hotels and malls as workers and for driving taxies. So far, 20 trafficked persons have been traced while hunt for other accused and victims is continuing.

Teenager crushed under truck

 Seventeen-year-old Prasanjeet Meshram, a labourer, who was riding pillion on a bike, died on the spot after being hit by an unidentified truck in front of Umiya gate at Kalamna on Saturday.
Prasanjeet was sitting between rider Mukesh Kosare and his cousin Ganesh Bawne when the trio was returning from Bhandara.
All the three fell off after being hit by the truck. Kosare and Bawne sustained minor injuries. However, Prasanjeet succumbed to head injuries.
Kalamna police have registered a case of negligence in driving against the unknown truck driver.

 

Bengal new epicentre of human trafficking

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This is the first of a two-part series investigating the growing menace of human trafficking in Bengal, which has turned the state into India’s biggest zone for sexual offences.

little over 500,000 women, including Rohingya girls, have been trafficked during the last decade from Bangladesh into West Bengal, turning the state into the world’s worst human trafficking zone. The 2,217-km border in Bengal is fenced and patrolled by soldiers of the Border Security Force (BSF), but the women, including teenage girls, find their way into India through the land and river routes, the journey backed by a sophisticated racket where middlemen in the business use satellite phones to avoid arrest.

More than four decades after gaining Independence, no one knows where India ends and Bangladesh starts. Infiltration is relatively easy, thanks to the border’s irregular nature. In many places, the border cuts through houses and buildings. Historians claim the lacuna in drawing a proper demarcation between India and East Pakistan (and eventually Bangladesh) lies with the subcontinent’s erstwhile British rulers. Nothing can be done to rectify it.

There are two crossover points. Petrapole, on the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, along with Benapole, situated a few miles west, in Bangladesh. High, wire-meshed fences separate the nations at these two land ports; there are gun-toting BSF soldiers. There are soldiers and checkpoints on the river banks as well, but it is humanly impossible to monitor the vast expanse of paddy fields and water bodies. No one knows what exactly the line of demarcation is.

“This is becoming a huge problem. Operators have powerful, political backing. It is tough to manage such a fluid border,” says BSF DIG R.P.S. Jaiswal.

HUGE DEMAND

The demand from India is huge. Agents in Kolkata, claim sources in the city, routinely interact with their counterparts in Bangladesh—mainly Dhaka—for women and girls for supply across India. The Indian syndicate demands young girls and women for brothels in Delhi, Mumbai, Patna, Chennai, Bangalore, Surat, Agra, Raipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Hyderabad and Kochi, also in tourist destinations in the hills. Many head to dance bars, massage parlours and special massages at homes, all invariably ending up in sex for charge.

In Kolkata, newspapers carry full page advertisements of special massage services, cops in the city claim there is no way the girls can be booked and sent back home because they do not have valid papers. A recent study, titled “Human Trafficking: Modus Operandi of Touts on Indo-Bangladesh Border”, says syndicates across poverty-stricken Bangladesh promise the women “a better life in India with good jobs, household work, roles in movies, marriage, even visits to the Taj Mahal”. Mostly picked up from bus stands and railway stations, the victims are mainly Bangladeshi internal migrants.

Ashok Sadhu, who works with a local NGO in Bongaon near the Bangladesh border, says the demand has even pushed Rohingya girls and women into the sex trade, most of them coming from Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar where they are sold as sex slaves.

Many of these women and girls come to Bangladesh by boat to escape a brutal military crackdown. “These women are approached by touts in Bangladesh, mostly women, and then sent across to India with high hopes. And eventually, they land in brothels, or are made to perform in dance bars.”

As per records, there are a little over 3,000 dance bars across Bengal—popular as Chullu Bars—where country liquor is served to lowly workers who watch these girls perform and then engage in sex for a cost. “Bulk of these Rohingya girls do not speak any Indian language and communicate through signs,” says Sadhu.

Khartoun, one of the victims rescued by cops in Cox’s Bazar, told Al Jazeera news channel that she was locked up for three weeks and sold to a Bangladeshi man, who she said, sexually abused her for 12 days. The channel said the man who bought Khartoun returned her to the women who sold her after 12 days. She now lives at the Kutupalong refugee camp.

The United Nations and aid agencies claim sex trafficking in refugee camps in Bangladesh has gotten worse with the recent influx of more than 620,000 Rohingya.

Olivia Headon of the International Organisation for Migration says recruiters in Cox’s Bazar are on a high, their networks have swung into action to traffic both women and girls to India.

HERDED LIKE GOATS

Jaiswal says the bulk of the victims are trafficked from Jessore and Satkhira to Gojadanga and Hakimpur in Bangladesh, because the border there is completely unfenced and people live till the zero line. “It is easier for the touts to bring people into India from that area. The Benapole border, the south-west transit point, is also used by the touts as it is the easiest land route to India.”

Jaiswal says women are trafficked from other parts of Bangladesh, notably Dinajpur, Lalmonirhat, Chapai Nawabgunj, Rajsahi, Thakurgaon, Nilpaharai, Panchagarh, Kurigram and Noagaon. With the demand for women at an all time high in India, Bangladeshi touts are too happy to send in supplies through their Indian contacts. “There are powerful bases across the border on both sides, these are the favourite transit points of human trafficking.”

What is extremely depressing is the way the women are trafficked. Sometimes they are herded like goats in boats that cross the Ichhamati river in the dark of night, others are camped in homes close to the border and pushed in regular intervals throughout the night. Some are bold enough to cross over during the daytime. Victims, touts arrested and interviewed by BSF for the study say for every person to cross over to India, a tout has to pay 200-400 takas (Bangladeshi currency) to the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), but BSF’s involvement was not found at organisation level.

But what is interesting is that there were “instances of individual involvement (of BSF personnel),” says the study. Jaiswal says action has been initiated against those found to be involved in the trade.

But one thing is clear, the trade is flourishing and cannot be contained in a stipulated time frame.

“The demand is now sky high in India, it is a herculean task to stop trafficking across the Bangladesh border,” says historian Tanveer Nasreen Ahmed, who has worked extensively on such issues in Bengal.

Post trafficking, the victims are kept inside Indian homes at the border villages for a little over two months so that they can acquire travel documents with changed names. Often Muslim women are asked to wear vermillion to project themselves as Hindus.

Ahmed says what is interesting is that Kolkata is not seen as a sex-hyped city despite this huge influx. Sonagachi, the city’s biggest red light area—among the largest in Asia—has a little over 9,000 women and the majority are from Bangladesh, while some are from Nepal and Bhutan. And the numbers have remained static for quite some time.

“It is the nationwide demand that is fuelling the supplies. It is very, very unfortunate,” says Ahmed.

She and her team members have pushed for self-employment projects on the border so that those on the Indian side do not indulge in trafficking. Regular meetings are held with soldiers of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and Bangladeshi and Indian authorities but it is easier said than done because of lack of opportunities.

As a result, human traffickers operate openly in North 24 Parganas, close to the Ichhamati river, which flows along the border between India and Bangladesh. Parents who were interviewed in the study said all schools in the borders have a mandatory course on how to identify and avoid human traffickers, ostensibly because of an upsurge in kidnapping of girls from villages. Once Bengal was number two in terms of trafficking after Assam, but now the status has reversed.

The crisis is serious, on an all-time high.

70% FROM BENGAL

In one case last year, it was found the sales staff of telecom companies were sharing with traffickers pre-paid numbers of young school and college girls. “And then the shadowing the girls start. Eventually, some of them are lured and taken away,” says Ahmed. For each girl, the middleman get approximately Rs 50,000, while the women are sold in the brothels of Delhi, Ghaziabad and Agra for at Rs 2-3 lakh.

Shakti Vahini, a pan-India anti-trafficking NGO, estimates, out of every ten girls rescued from brothels and red light areas across the country, seven are from Bengal’s North and South 24 Parganas districts. Last year, the West Bengal government set up a separate police district that covers the crocodile-infested Sunderbans area, also known as a habitat of Royal Bengal tigers. The cops routinely look for cross-border traffickers and their catch from Bangladesh and also from Bengal.

Tathagata Basu, a senior West Bengal cop, says he travelled all the way to the national capital and Agra to bust a trafficking racket in the brothels of these two cities after gathering information that bulk of the girls were from South 24 Parganas. “The touts always talk of jobs, and the families happily comply, both in Bangladesh and in Bengal. What is interesting is that cash is regularly sent to the families so that the traffickers can pick up more girls. Often parents of girls in the village are shown photographs of the flashy lives of those in Delhi.”

Basu’s men worked on a tip-off when one family member confined to the cops that they were worried about the girl who had sent two postcards from Delhi highlighting her plight. “The girls serve 25 customers a day. If they refuse they are beaten, burnt with cigarettes butts,” says Ahmed, adding, “those who are lucky are rescued and sent home”. But the touts are difficult to catch because they constantly change homes and source new mobile SIM cards.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

So what makes the infiltration easy? Jaiswal says the Bangladeshi women are stuck once in India because of their status as illegal immigrants. As a result, these women are totally dependent on the traffickers for protection from police. The traffickers also put tremendous fear—of torture in Indian jails—in the minds of the women if they raise an alarm. “The fear of prison is high in the minds of these women, they do not want to return after being rescued,” says Ahmed. Return is not easy even for those who have families in India, as their families refuse them because of societal stigma.

There are other troubles as well: investigating officers hardly get any support from public prosecutors in the district courts, while traffickers or brothel keepers are defended by a battery of expert criminal lawyers. As a result, the victims of organised crime are left to fight their case alone. Worse, the traffickers use fake identify cards, while taking the girls to the brothels to avoid arrest.

As a result, trafficking continues unabated.

Across the Bangladesh border in Bengal, some swim across under the cover of the night, some slide through the wired border after creating gaps into it. And once they are in India, the traffickers move in. There are many who work in such groups, young and handsome men who trick and lure young women. (To be concluded) …