New laws for trafficking victims

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NAMRATA VIJ AHUJA IN ASIAN AGE

Victims of trafficking may no longer have to depose in court to prove their cases as the government is considering allowing video conferencing as part of wide ranging reforms suggested by a high level committee which has given its suggestions to the Union home ministry .The definition of sexual exploitation under the law is also set to be tightened to include ‘’involuntary acts done under coercion and in absence of free will’’, extending the scope of the law to include such portrayal in the print and electronic media and Internet.

Three sub-panels formed by NALSA core committee headed by Supreme Court judge Justice A.K. Sikri and consisting of joint secretary in home ministry Alok Kumar had submitted their report which is now being studied by the ministries of home and women and child development for implementation.

While work has already begun in the WCD ministry to amend the Imm-oral Traffic (Prevention) Act to remove any gaps in the law, the MHA is working on other suggestions which also call for setting up an exclusive or specialised agency for investigating organised crime.

Pointing out that trafficking, which includes sexual exploitation to a large extent has become one of the largest organised crime in the country, a top MHA official said that a dedicated institutional structure is in the works to act as the nodal point for coordinating with the various agencies concerned, including the police and the legal authorities.

The WCD may act as the nodal body and may have its own dedicated agency to deal with such crimes, the official said adding that deliberations are going on the issue.

On the legal reforms, the ministry of home is in the process of consulting the law ministry to allow video-conferencing for all victims of human trafficking to ‘’isolate them from the traffickers’’ and increase the conviction rates.

“The video conferencing of all victims of human trafficking may be allowed from the nearest point made available by the probe agency and is expected to go a long way in allowing more and more victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation approach the police with their complaints and depose before the courts subsequently,” the official added.

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Trafficking of kids, workers, women thrives in Bengaluru

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BY ARUN DEV PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES OF INDIA BANGALORE

BENGALURU: On a tipoff, police knocked on the doors of a 60-year-old businessman in southeast Bengaluru in August and rescued a woman in her mid-20s, held captive.

When investigators sat down with the woman, what unfolded was a story of unending horror. The Nepal woman was brought to Bengaluru with the promise of a job in a beauty parlour. But she ended up in the apartment in the captivity of a businessman, who allegedly sexually abused her. The woman is among the hundreds trafficked to Bengaluru on false promises. From providing maids to migrant IT professionals to manual labourers for brick kilns, begging and immoral trade, human trafficking is a well-oiled racket in the city.

While other southern states show a decline in the number of trafficking cases, the numbers are growing in Karnataka. Police say Bengaluru accounts for a lion’s share of cases reported from the state. As per the home ministry, Karnataka registered the second largest number of trafficking cases in South India, and third largest number in the country.

Tamil Nadu, which registered the maximum number of cases (509), has shown a decrease from its 2012 (528) and 2013 (549) cases. Karnataka recorded 472 cases in 2014, compared to 412 in 2012 and 412 in 2013.

“Each time we raid brothels, we find many of the women rescued are not there because they want to be there. Frankly, I’ve been told this argument is bogus but the fact is, these women are put in a situation where they have no options. Some don’t have the means to get home — in some cases, their family members send them and in other cases, they don’t even know how to get back. The psychological torture some of the immoral trafficking victims undergo is unimaginable,” said a Crime Branch officer.

Also, the gold rush for jobs in the developing cities of South India has become a trap. A revenue department official, who is responsible for keeping track of rescued bonded labourers, said in most cases, people from East Indian states are lured with false job offers. “Their situation back home makes any job appear lucrative, but they are forced to live in unimaginable situations. In some cases, we found only one toilet for a group of people, and they were not allowed to leave the factories, so they may not run away,” said the officials.

Across agencies, officials agree that mere rescue won’t do the job; there is a need to identify touts and gangs who operate these trafficking gangs. But then again, they claim it is easier said than done.

TIMES VIEW

It’s a shame that the crime of human trafficking continues in India, and the racket thrives on the poverty and desperation of one section of society. It’s the illiterate and unemployed who are easy targets, and sadly, it’s children who are preyed upon the most. With Bengaluru becoming a destination for this trade, city police should keep a watch on the influx of migrants. It is up to law-enforcement authorities and an alert society to stem this trade of humans, or they could just end up becoming statistics in this illegal business.

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.”

It’s a Home-Grown Racket

NEW INDIAN EXPRESS

PUBLISHED IN THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS BY J SANTOSH

The recent case of a 14-year-old girl who delivered a child just two months after she was rescued from an unauthorised children’s home raises questions about children’s homes mushroooming with hardly any monitoring.

Though police have arrested the pastor, Pradhudas (65), who was running an illegal home near Madambakkam for several years, on charges of child sex abuse, the years of trauma the minor girl suffered cannot be undone.

“Even now, the illegal children’s home was exposed because of a civil dispute over the property on which the home was being run and the opposite party complained to police,” says Zaheeruddin Mohamed, a member of the Kancheepuram district Child Welfare Committee (CWC).

Had the illegal home not been detected, the abuse might never have come to light and the child born to the minor girl would have been brought up as another child in the home. The trauma the minor girl would have suffered during her stay in the home with none to console or counsel her cannot be fathomed.

What is more disturbing is the callousness, absence of sensitivity and inability to realise the seriousness of the issue of government officials.

RACKET1The social welfare department (SWD) has submitted four different sets of contradictory information on the number of homes for children in the State during an ongoing public interest litigation (PIL). “In September 2014, it stated there were 1,814 homes in the State. On April 6, 2015, it claimed 1,843 such homes had been identified. A fortnight later, on April 20, 2015, it submitted that there were 1,559 homes for children. However, in the affidavit submitted on April 18, 2015 by the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the count was revised 1,543,” says activist A Narayanan, who is the petitioner in the PIL (see table).

While contradictory information raises questions about the efficiency of the authorities in collecting data on and monitoring children’s homes, the other big question is whether so many children’s homes are needed.

According to estimates by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, there are about four lakh children living in homes in Tamil Nadu, which is the highest in the country.

“The main reason is the mushrooming of newer homes opened by private NGOs or trusts in the State. There are strong reasons to believe that most of these homes are run to solicit donations from both domestic and foreign donors.

Many people nowadays want to donate for laudable causes like supporting orphans or destitute children. These homes look out for such donations. Obviously, only a very tiny part of the donations reach the children,” says Zaheeruddin Mohamed.

In the case of the home near Madambakkam run by Prabhudas, Mohamed said most of the children there were taken from their parents by luring them with money.

In August 2013, an instance of human trafficking was reported with similar motives. The city police rescued six children with physical and mental disabilities from rooms in a lodge at Broadway. Enquiries later showed they were trafficked by K Sundar, who claimed he was running a home for destitutes to solicit donations by circulating photos of the children.

Another motive was to imbibe a particular religious belief in small children. A fact finding report by an NGO, Change India, which checked two children’s homes in Trichy and Madurai, found that in both the homes, the children were compelled to learn the Bible and attend religious classes.

“Besides this, the children were always tutored not to mix freely with other classmates in schools and even teachers. They were brought up secluded,” says the report prepared by two masters students of social work.

RACKET

Shortage of Resources Hampers Crackdown: Child Welfare Panel

There are nearly 500 unregistered homes in Kancheepuram district, one of the largest districts in the state. But the members of Child Welfare Committee, an important agency to identify illegal homes, do not even get conveyance allowance or a vehicle if they want to go on inspection rounds.

“We have to travel by bus to reach places, even if we get to know about an illegal home or abuse of children,” says Dr R N Manikandan, chairperson, Kancheepuram district Child Welfare Committee.

Activists say the inadequate facilities to monitor privately run children’s homes lead to exploitation of the children.

“The main problem is that social welfare and social defense have been clubbed into one department. So officials focus their energies on social welfare schemes like distributing freebies and other social support measures. They seem to have no time for social defense activities like child protection,” says A Narayanan, a social activist who has been fighting against the burgeoning number of unregulated children’s homes in the state.

Narayanan says the government must make Social Defense as a separate department with dedicated manpower. “The Child Welfare Committee has powers of a judicial magistrate in matters of child welfare. But we lack the manpower and support to do what is needed. Our members have all come forward voluntarily for the cause of child welfare. But we are not able to act on all the complaints we receive because of manpower shortage,” says Manikandan.

He says the Juvenie Justice Act mandates that every children’s home must apply for registration with the social welfare department.

“The Child Welfare Committee after inspection recommends approval. However, many of the homes are running without registration and with inadequate manpower, it is making it difficult for us to identify the unregistered homes,” said Manikandan.

Photos of cops involved in sex racket released

Published in The Times of India

PUDUCHERRY: The Crime Branch – Criminal Investigation Department of the Puducherry police on Tuesday released photographs of six former policemen, who were allegedly involved in a child prostitution racket, after they failed to surrender despite warnings. The investigation agency sought help from human rights and child rights activists to alert them immediately if they spot these former policemen. Nine former policemen were booked in this case. Three of them — former sub-inspector V Balakrishnan and former police constables M Selvakumar and G Sankar surrendered before the agency on Saturday. They were remanded in judicial custody.

However, six more former policemen — V Yuvaraj and T Sundar, A Anusa Basha, B Kumaravel, G Pandarinathan and V Rajaram did not surrender despite warning, forcing the agency to release their photographs in an effort to nab them. “We released their photographs at 12pm on Tuesday. We are confident of receiving vital information that will lead to their arrest. We will nab them soon. The agency has so far arrested 12 people and rescued four minor girls. These six former policemen are only people wanted in the case. We will file a chargesheet soon and arrest them,” said superintendent of police (CB-CID) S Venkatasamy. The SP did not rule out the possibility of the agency unearthing the involvement of more people in this case.

The agency had earlier announced reward for information leading to their arrest. The SP assured that the identity of the informers will not be revealed.

Police busted a child prostitution racket in May last year following a tip from a child welfare committee and Childline. Police arrested 12 people, including four pimps – K Pushpa, 43 from Thavalakuppam, S Raghu alias Rahman Khan, 29, from Tindivanam, M Manickam, 22, from Anumanthai and S Arul Mary, 73, from Savirirayalu Street and rescued four minor girls. All the accused including the nine former policemen were booked under Sections 4 (punishment for penetrative sex assault), 6 (punishment for aggravated penetrative sex assault) and 16 (abetment of an offence) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act, and Sections 3 (punishment for keeping a brothel or allowing the premises to be used as a brothel), 5 (procuring, inducing or taking person for the sake of prostitution) and 7 (prostitution in or in the vicinity of public place) of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act and Section 376 (punishment for rape) of the IPC.

INDIA’S BRIDE TRAFFICKING FUELLED BY SKEWED SEX RATIOS

A brother from West Bengal district of Dinajpur after a long search was able to rescue his sister who was trafficked for forced Marriage in Uttar Pradesh

A brother from West Bengal district of Dinajpur after a long search was able to rescue his sister who was trafficked for forced Marriage in Uttar Pradesh

PUBLISHED IN THE GUARDIAN-BY ANU ANAND

Business in brides is booming in north-west India as a result of female foeticide, but the women bought and sold are often trapped in lives of slavery and abuse

Just 90 minutes’ drive from the thriving city of Gurgaon, near Delhi, a business hub in Indiaand home to corporate giants Google and Microsoft, Hari Singh Yadav, landowner, farmer and eldest of seven brothers sits outside his front door and bemoans his bachelor status.

“There are not enough girls from my caste in our village, and I’m already 34 years old, so now no one wants to marry me,” he says. Only three of his brothers have found wives. “Here, if you don’t marry, people shun you. I want to go to [the southern city of] Hyderabad and get a wife but it will cost $1,500. Will you loan it to me?”

In the north-west of India, the business in brides is booming. Skewed sex ratios in states including Haryana,where there are only 830 girls for every 1,000 boys(pdf) and young women being lured away to jobs in India’s booming cities, means men like Yadav are increasingly left with few options when it comes to finding a wife.

“Among land-owning castes in rural areas, female foeticide is rampant because people bitterly oppose laws which say girls should inherit equally,” said Reena Kukreja, who teaches gender studies at Queens University in Ontario, Canada. “So they make sure daughters are never born.”

Nearly 50 years after the introduction of ultrasound technology, which campaigners say has led to the sex-selective termination of up to 10 million healthy female foetuses, families in search of wives are increasingly turning to traffickers to counter their sons’ diminishing marriage prospects.

There are no official statistics on trafficked and migrant brides in India, but according to a survey conducted across 1,300 villages in Haryana and Rajasthan by Queens University, there has been a 30% increase over the past three years in the numbers of women lured or coerced into marriage.

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified organised bride trafficking rings increasingly operating in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where gender ratios are among the least balanced in the country. A 2013 UNODC report (pdf) cites a survey of 92 villages in Haryana which shows that in 10,000 households, 9,000 married women had been bought from poor villages in other states.

The business of bride trafficking is proving so lucrative that local people are setting themselves up as dealers or brokers, sourcing women for families seeking partners for their sons.

Bashir, who refused to give his surname, is from Tijara in the north-western state of Rajasthan. He used to make his living harvesting crops or quarrying rocks. Now he supplements his meagre income by travelling to Assam twice a year – with his own purchased wife – to bring back brides for local village families.

“We tell them they’ll get good husbands here. We pay the families $70-100 [£45-65],” Bashir says, sitting outside his family home. “It’s a community service. We are poor, they are poor, so it’s a win-win situation.”

Yet the reality of these marriages for women bought and sold as brides is often a life of slavery and abuse. The UNODC says thousands of these women are raped, abused, used as domestic slaves and often eventually abandoned.

Sahiba was only 16 when a distant relative told her family in Assam that he could marry the poor teenager into a good home. He took her away, raped her twice and sold her as a bride to a family in Palwal, Haryana, 60km from the Indian capital Delhi. “I didn’t want to be raped again, so I went along with it,” she says. “And I thought it was a real marriage.”

She later discovered from her sister-in law that she had been bought for 13,500 rupees (£135) for her mentally ill husband, whom the family thought no one else would marry. “My blood began to boil and I decided to escape,” Sahiba says. “When I refused to sleep with my new husband, I was beaten and attacked with a knife. ‘We bought you,’ his family told me. ‘You have to obey.’”

Shafiq ur-Rehman is an activist and founder of Empower People, a charity that works with trafficked brides in 10 Indian states, including Haryana, where his offices have been set on fire and his employees shot at by locals. He says women who are bought and sold into marriage are often used as unpaid labourers. “It’s simple economics,” he says. “A local day labourer costs $140 for a season. But a girl only costs $100 for life. If it doesn’t work out, she can be resold and there’s no family nearby to help her. It’s no different from the former slave plantations of the US.”

Ghaushia Khan, 40, an activist, was sold into marriage in Haryana as a young woman and now provides legal aid to other trafficked brides. She says that, once sold, many women are considered worthless by the community they find themselves in. “In 1992, a [trafficked bride] in my neighbourhood was doused in kerosene and burnt alive,” Khan says. “Her skin began to peel off and I would hear her crying out, ‘please give me water’.”

Khan travels throughout Haryana trying to help these brides get access to legal support and assistance. She says few of the women she encounters are prepared to go to the police because they believe that, far from delivering justice, a complaint will leave them further isolated.

Some women, like Farida, have spent decades in villages far away from their families. Only 11 when, 20 years ago, she was sold to a 70-year-old man, her first experience of marriage was rape and violence. She gave birth to the first of seven children soon after. “That same day, I was ordered to get up and cook for everyone,” says Farida.

What is most painful, she says, is that her children have been taught to hate her. “My eldest son says to his grandmother, ‘Why don’t we sell her on? There are many others like her,’” she says. “What can I do? I don’t think I’ll ever see my sister again. I don’t even remember how to get back home.”

Others, like Sahiba, have managed to escape their marriages. Sahiba’s brother spent months tracking her down with the help of lawyers and activists with the Delhi-based Save the Childhood Movement. However, the chances of Sahiba getting any kind of justice or compensation are slim. Save the Childhood Movement estimates that, despite thousands of women being affected, there have been only two or three convictions a year for bride trafficking.

“There’s a very low conviction rate in cases of bride trafficking because the law is so fragmented,” says Rakesh Senger, an activist with the organisation. “One section deals with kidnapping, another with trafficking, another with rape, so cases usually took up to five years to prosecute. There is no inter-state police cooperation either, so it’s difficult to get victims to court to testify. However, with the new rape laws, we’re hopeful things will improve as cases have to be tried within a year.”

Ravi Kant, president of Shakti Vahini, one of India’s most high-profile anti-trafficking organisations, agrees. He says that, despite successfully bringing cases of forced labour – where they have prosecuted families for buying women from another state and forcing them into domestic servitude – they have persistently failed to bring cases of bride trafficking to court.

“We’ve tried to prosecute traffickers and men who’ve purchased wives in at least 20 different cases,” Kant says. “They stay in jail for two to three months, get bail and then either the prosecutor doesn’t actively pursue the case, or the victim never testifies because she’s afraid to face her tormentor again. The local police don’t see the accused as having committed any crime, so they don’t investigate properly, and they make no effort to cross state lines to bring victims to court.”

Sahiba’s future remains uncertain. She says that although she has been rescued, the end of her marriage means she can’t go home to her family. “I can’t go back because of the shame of leaving a husband,” she says.

Kept as sex slave in Gujarat, Jabalpur woman wriggles out of hellhole

TIMES OF INDIA

BHOPAL: Madhya Pradesh police arrested a couple who sold a woman in Gujarat where she was kept as a sex slave. Accused Ritesh Barman and wife Mona, are residents of Gorakhpur area in Jabalpur district. They confessed to having sold the 35-year-old woman to one ‘Popet Bhai’ in Gujarat for Rs 1.25 lakh.

Popet sold her to a Patel family in Junagarh for Rs 1.80 lakh. She was kept hostage and repeatedly raped, besides being forced to work as bonded labour. She wriggled out of their clutches and reached Jabalpur on October 23.

On October 29, when two people came to Jabalpur and tried to kidnap her, she went to the police and narrated her ordeal. The rape survivor alleged she was raped by one Bhawan Patel, Vallabh Patel and other members of the family.

Police said, she was a mother of two and was working as a domestic help in Jabalpur. The Barman couple took her to Gujarat, promising better pay. During interrogation, police found more girls had been trafficked from the state and sold in Gurajat by Popet Bhai. Teams have been dispatched to Gujarat to arrest him. A case has been lodged against five people, including Popet.