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.

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Human trafficking racket busted, four minor girls rescued

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The police today busted a human trafficking racket with the arrest of two persons. Four minor girls were rescued and one of them has been hospitalised after her employer allegedly inflicted injuries on her.The accused have been identified as Surender Malto and Arun, both residents of Jharkhand. The duo were arrested from Sector 30 here this morning.A police official said Surender had bought one of the victim from his home district for Rs 4,000 two years ago and had sold her to a person in Delhi. The victim, who is recuperating in a local hospital, told the police that she was not only raped several times, but was also sold to two persons during the last two years.She said she was employed as a domestic help in Delhi earlier and was brought to Faridabad and sold to one Mani Mishra here.She accused both her employers of torture and sexual abuse. She alleged that a remuneration of Rs 30,000 earned by her in Delhi was also snatched from her.She said on January 27, she was beaten up with iron rods and a knife and was seriously injured. She managed to escape from the confinement the same night. She was then admitted to a hospital by some locals.The police after registering an FIR carried out raids jointly with Haryana State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (HSCPCR). The other two accused namely Mani Mishra and his wife Anima Mishra are yet to be arrested.Mishra admitted that he had trafficked around 30 girls in the recent past. He said girls were sold upto Rs 20,000 each as domestic maids in the NCR.BK Goel, member, HSCPCR, said he had taken up the matter with the police asking it to probe the functioning of illegal placement agencies in the region.Two Jharkhand girls were also rescued in Ambala district recently.

Indian radio hosts take to the airwaves to highlight human trafficking

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With human trafficking on the rise in India, some radio hosts are using their programs to raise awareness and help listeners spot traffickers.

In the Indian capital, New Delhi, radio host Ginnie Mahajan will talk trafficking on her award-winning show “Suno Na Dilli” (Listen Delhi) this weekend.

“We want Delhi to know that many of these girls working in their houses are reported missing by their parents,” she said.

“We need Delhi to know that girls are being forced into this trade.”

Human trafficking in India rose by almost 20 percent in 2016 against the previous year, Indian government data shows. More than 60 percent of the 23,117 victims rescued were children

Forty-five percent of victims were trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and 33 percent for sexual exploitation, according to the data.

“If we only checked details of the women around whom our lives and kitchens revolve we could actually stop the crime,” Mahajan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Delhi.

Radio has become an important tool in spreading awareness, campaigners say.

“It lets people know what is out there, the sheer horror of such a crime and how close to home it is,” said Adrian Phillips of anti-trafficking charity Justice and Care, which collaborates with radio stations.

While Mahajan’s show reaches urban Indians in the capital, a community radio station in the southern state of Karnataka recently went on air with a special program devoted to human trafficking.

Keerti S. Chougala, a host on Nammura Banuli (Our Village Radio), said she was aiming to educate her nearly 400,000 listeners on the impact of the crime, as well as how to spot traffickers and report cases.

“We wanted to tell women and girls in the region about this in a simple way and raise awareness,” Chougala said.

Run by charity Women’s Welfare Society, the show is broadcast across more than 400 villages in Belgavi district.

In November, a young trafficking survivor shared her story on Akaashwani radio in the eastern city of Kolkata.

An aspiring singer from Bangladesh, she told listeners how traffickers had promised her “starlit dreams” of becoming a singing sensation in India, and then trafficked her to a brothel.

Phillips said radio is ideal for sharing trafficking stories, because survivors can speak about their experiences anonymously, “without fearing repercussions from criminal networks.”

Radio also allows listeners to connect intimately with survivors, he added.

“It’s a real person speaking up and more importantly speaking out,” Phillips said.

Interstate human trafficking gang busted in Churu

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Police raided places in Churu and Jhunjhunu leading to the arrest of five- Rajkumar Meghwal (30), Jhabar Meghwal (40), Sintu Swami (26), Vijay Singh (25) and Sher Singh (26).
Churu police busted an interstate human trafficking gang and arrested five people allegedly involved in the activity.

Churu police busted an interstate human trafficking gang and arrested five people allegedly involved in the activity.(Getty Images/Stock photo (REPRESENTATIVE PIC))

Churu police busted an interstate human trafficking gang on Saturday and arrested five people allegedly involved in the activity. Police also freed three women who were victims of the racket.

The police on Thursday were tipped off that a woman who was brought by the gang to Chhajusar village, has escaped from the place and was roaming homeless in the city, a press note from the Churu superintendent of police (SP) Barhat Rahul Manhardan said.

With the help of Aapni Sakhi, the mobile team of women personnel, police reached the trafficked woman, who confirmed that she was brought to the district by the gang. A team of senior police officials was formed by the SP to look into the matter.

The woman, who hailed from Jharkhand, said that it was an interstate gang that targeted poor and helpless women. The gang would abduct them and then they would be trafficked to various parts of the country.

Police raided places in Churu and Jhunjhunu leading to the arrest of five- Rajkumar Meghwal (30), Jhabar Meghwal (40), Sintu Swami (26), Vijay Singh (25) and Sher Singh (26).

“While Rajkumar and Jhabar were part of the gang, the other three had bought the women from them for
Rs 1.5-2 lakh,” said additional SP Keshar Singh. The main members of the gang were in Delhi and would supply women to Rajkumar and Jhabar, who in turn would supply them to people in Rajasthan, he added.

Two other women from Delhi and Punjab, were also freed. Churu police will send a team to Delhi to scout for others involved in the racket.

 

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) …

Open Trafficking

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Employment opportunities should be created in Nepal to prevent cross-border trafficking between Nepal and India

Following the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that human trafficking from Nepal to India witnessed “a three-fold jump”. The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) reported that most of the victims were minors, with girls and boys in equal numbers, and many were from the earthquake-affected districts of Nepal. In Dhangadhi and Rupandehi districts of Nepal, representatives of NGOs working on human trafficking said that quake-affected Sindhupalchowck district was among the key source districts for cross-border trafficking to India. A large number of women from this district left the country after the earthquake to find employment abroad, either through Rasuwagadhi or some other transit point along the India-Nepal border, said Asha from an NGO. “The destination countries for most of them were Kyrgyzstan, Israel, West Asia, and India. Many have also left for Kathmandu,” she said.

But identifying cases of human trafficking is not easy. Pancha Kumar Bakhu, who is Inspector, Area Police Office, Barabise in Sindhupalchowk, said: “No case of human trafficking has been registered since 2015, but ‘love affair’ (elopement) cases have been registered.” It is often difficult to identify a human trafficking case at the source since the victim may have been lured through the false promise of marriage or a job, said advocate Adrian Phillips from Justice and Care, an NGO that works on human trafficking.

The Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950 provides for an open border between Nepal and India. At the Gauriphanta border in Lakhimpur Kheri district and Sanuali border in Maharajganj district of U.P. bordering Nepal, I discovered how easy it was to cross over to Nepal. An official from SSB at Gauriphanta, which guards the Indian side of the border, said that those entering India are not stopped, but “those with luggage are stopped and questioned.” As I crossed over to Dhangadi in Nepal from Gauriphanta, an official from the Armed Police Force, which guards the Nepali side, said that individuals are stopped on the basis of “suspicion, intelligence or information from family members or relatives.” The SSB also profiles victims and suspects.

Closing the border may prevent cross-border trafficking, but it could also engender or accentuate economic vulnerabilities for those who have jobs or own businesses along the border. Poverty and unemployment in Sindhupalchowck have left young people vulnerable to internal and cross-border trafficking through the Rasuwagadi-Kerung border. It is imperative to create economic opportunities, particularly for the youth, within the country. Further, the Nepal-India border needs to be equipped with enhanced intelligence networks and effective monitoring mechanisms.