On March 7 last week, an incident very typical of the Indian parliament occurred in the State Assembly of Madhya Pradesh. A walkout. The issue was about girls being abducted for human trafficking in the state. Official estimates show that since 20008, 4900 minor girls have gone missing in Madhya Pradesh. The home minister very conveniently replied that the situation was not as bad as it looked since in many of these 4900 cases,
the parents simply don’t report to the police when their wards return. The opposition on the other hand instead of suggesting measures to curb these activities, stuck to the old Indian formula of disguising demagogic endeavors into honorable non-cooperation and thus, staged a dramatic walkout of the Assembly.
It has been estimated that on an average 35 girls and women go missing every hour in India. Sadly, only in one out of three cases is the person ever found. The question that arises is: where on earth do these girls go? According to official figures by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, around 3 million women are victims of the flesh trade business in India of which 1.2 million are children as young as 5 and 6 years old.
Even more shocking is the fact the world’s largest concentrated red light areas exists and flourishes in our country. The revenue of the brothels of Mumbai alone has been estimated to be more than $700 million per year and that for the entire country adds up to about $10 billion per year. How did our society come to such a sorry state? There was once a time when India was seen as a moral example throughout the world. Today, commitment has given way to hypocrisy, trust has been crushed by greed and an indifferent society has replaced a rich culture.
The spark that lit the fire
Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman once in an interview said, “[Sex] trafficking is absolutely, positively the worst possible human rights violation you can think of. Trafficking is abduction. Trafficking is rape. Trafficking is torture, both emotional and physical. Trafficking is murder.” Trafficking is an organized crime. It’s rise in India and other countries is not a random occurrence. Just as the Vietnam War is largely responsible for the colossal rise of trafficking in Thailand, rise in trafficking in India can also be pinpointed. During the past decades, India has experienced rapid urbanization which has consequently led a huge wave of male population from villages to leave their homes and come to cities in search of jobs. Since a multitude of debt-ridden people living in absolute penury existed (and still continues to exist) for whom the only way to avoid the wrath of the money lender was bondage labor, girls were easily trafficked into the major cities and forced into sex slavery. As demand for this industry increased, supply also increased rapidly. Today, the sex market is no more restricted only to migrant population alone. The entire general male population has fallen prey to it’s lure.
The wind that fans the flame
In spite of the strict Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act and Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, the flourishing flesh trade seems like a bizarre contradiction. Also, unlike other crimes, trafficking is not done in secrecy. Despite this, trafficking is carried out openly and fearlessly without any intervention by the authority. The reason being that the police turns a blind eye towards these activities since they get steady earnings through bribes paid by the brothel owners to keep their own businesses running. The story does not end with the decline of integrity in the police department. Since the location and activities of the brothels are always known to the locals, they can easily report to the police or take up collective or individual initiatives to curb these activities. But, this almost never happens. The sheer apathy shown by people towards the plight of these sex workers who are kept in bondage under nightmarish conditions, poses the biggest hindrance in efforts to make progress in eradicating trafficking.
The forest that is burnt
Almost every girl who works as a sex worker has been forced into the business, most often by someone whom they might have known well and would have had trusted. They are abducted or tricked into a fraudulent marriage after which they are sold to the brothel owner as if she was an object of trade. The few who join the business voluntarily are the ones whose financial conditions were so pathetic that they found no other means to support their families other than to sell their own bodies. They are mostly entered into the trade when they are children and as young as 5 or 6 years old. This is because children comply more easily than the adults and are easy to control and most importantly, due to high demand for children from customers. In the last three decades, over 40 million girls and women have gone missing out of which more than 60% have never been found. Just think about it. The number of girls never found is even more than entire the population of Australia. Nobody knows where these women are trafficked to or what has happened to them over time. Girls who have been rescued from sexual slavery describe the conditions of brothels as worse than hell itself. They are given food only once a day and allowed only one shower a week. The customers whose needs are to be served are not people who have come with good intentions either. About them, founder of the Prajwala foundation, Dr. Sunitha Krishnan said, “Men who come to them are not men who want to make you your girlfriends or want to have a family with you. These are men who buy you for an hour or a day and then use you and throw you.” Unprotected sex, beating, burning with cigarettes, putting chilli powder in the vagina, whipping are all very common practices in this business. Many girls take their own lives during the first few days at the brothel and no report to the police is ever made. The life expectancy of a woman working in the brothels is 35 years.
On an average, these girls undergo abortion 3 to 4 times every year. If they have children, then these children are also sold off in the sex market. 60% of the sex workers are HIV infected. Think about this for a minute. If one does the calculations, 3 million sex workers, 60% HIV infected, serving between 10-15 customers daily and then these men go back to their own families and further spreading the disease. The ramifications are frightening and we are slowly beginning to see them. India has the 8th highest AIDS prevalence rate in the world.
How to put out this wildfire?
At the TED India-2009, Dr. Sunitha Krishnan had said, “My challenge is not the traffickers…..My biggest challenge is civil society. It’s you and me. My biggest challenge is your blocks to accept these victims as one of your own” Truly, the biggest factor that perpetuates trafficking and encourages traffickers is our own indifference to this inhuman brutality. The anti-trafficking laws in India are very strict but still, trafficking continues throughout India. Largely, because of the corrupt and inefficient local police officers who often work in collaboration with the traffickers. While, on one hand, the police needs to augment its integrity level, at the same time, an active citizenry has to get involved in this issue. It is a problem created by the community, carried out in full knowledge of the community and thrives on the demand from within the community. Hence, the solution also needs to come from the community itself. We need to build a society that has zero tolerance for such activities. This can only be brought out through awareness. There is no doubt that a person who has been made aware of what exactly goes on behind the scenes in brothels, would never dare to approve of them. Members of the civil society need to spread awareness among citizens regarding this issue through campaigns, seminars, videos and social networking. Parents and teachers need to be more candid with the children and make them aware of this issue at an early age so as to spread a culture which absolutely outlaws encouragement of trafficking.
There is a red light centre in or nearby almost every city in India. The locals have to take up the responsibility to report these places to the police and if that does not work, take the matter into their own hands and stop illegal trafficking in their own areas. Most importantly, we need to make sure as citizens that we do not ostracize victims of trafficking which would completely shatter whatever little of their souls and hopes are left. We should encourage them to come out in the open and tell their heart-wrenching stories to the world which would give courage to other victims as well and also, instigate the general population to take action against the worst form of human rights violation.
Volunteer in your nearest NGOs that work in this direction. For more information about trafficking in India, visit the Prajwala Foundation website:
I would also encourage you to watch this documentary: