Victim of human trafficking: Hundreds of children brought from Rajasthan to work in cotton fields of North Gujarat

By Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, urging Governments worldwide to take coordinated and consistent measures to defeat this scourge. The Plan calls for integrating the fight against human trafficking into the UN’s broader programmes in order to boost development and strengthen security worldwide. Three years later in 2013, the   General Assembly held a high-level meeting to appraise the Global Plan of Action and through a resolution designated July 30th as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. The resolution declared that such a day was necessary to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”
The world body states, “human trafficking is a crime that exploits women, children and men for numerous purposes including forced labour and sex. The International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour globally. This estimate also includes victims of human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. While it is not known how many of these victims were trafficked, the estimate implies that currently, there are millions of trafficking in persons victims in the world. Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.”
The fact is that human trafficking has reached alarming levels all over the world. Whilst there is certainly a heightened awareness of this painful reality and that much more is being to combat this scourge, the bitter truth is that nothing seems to be enough.
In March 2017 India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development told Parliament that there almost 20,000 women and children who were victims of human trafficking in the country in 2016.This number is a 25% rise from the previous year. This rise the officials claim is perhaps due to the fact that there are more people who are not only aware of this crime but are also reporting it. However, there are many who are convinced that the actual victims of human trafficking in India could reach mind-boggling numbers. Many do not report the crime either because they are unaware of the law, are afraid of the human traffickers or of the law enforcement officials or are just too poor to have any other option in life.
India is today regarded as the South Asian hub for human trafficking. Thousands from rural India are lured daily by human traffickers to the big towns and cities with the promise of good jobs, more money etc. Most of the victims are women and children who are hopelessly trapped in bonded labour, prostitution rings and other nefarious activities. Some of them end up as domestic workers or have to sweat it out for long hours in small industrial units without the necessary safeguards and with unjust wages.
Hundreds of children are brought from neighbouring Rajasthan to work in the cotton fields of North Gujarat. In 2016 Rajasthan recorded the second highest number of trafficked children in the country. Mumbai, India’s commercial capital has brothels teeming with trafficked women. West Bengal also has a very high percentage of human trafficking mainly because of the poorer bordering countries of Bangla Desh and Nepal. The National Crime Records Bureau reveals that in 2016 an almost equal number of children and women were trafficked in India. Grim facts and statistical data of this terrible reality from every part of the country is easily available; however, what is in the public and official domain is only the tip of the iceberg.
Human trafficking is a highly complex reality. One is confronted with a myriad problems when one attempts to deal with the issue; the main one being taking on the big-time players: the trafficking syndicates and gangs and other vested interests. Many of them are politicians and if not, they have powerful political connections and patronage. A few years a BJP MP of Gujarat was arrested for human trafficking; in March, a BJP woman from West Bengal was charged with running a flourishing child trafficking racket and she has also named some of the other political bosses who support her; recently in May 2017 a BJP leader of Madhya Pradesh was arrested for running an online sex racket. In this terrible game there are few who get caught; most get away!
20,000 women and children were victims of human trafficking in India in 2016, says Government of India
A recent Report of the US State Department on ‘Human Trafficking’ bluntly says, “India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Forced labor constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children in debt bondage—sometimes inherited from previous generations—are forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories. The majority of India’s trafficking problem is internal, and those from the most disadvantaged social strata—lowest caste Dalits, members of tribal communities, religious minorities, and women and girls from excluded groups—are most vulnerable. Within India, some are subjected to forced labor in sectors such as construction, steel, and textile industries; wire manufacturing for underground cables; biscuit factories; pickling; floriculture; fish farms; and ship breaking. Thousands of unregulated work placement agencies reportedly lure adults and children under false promises of employment for sex trafficking or forced labor, including domestic servitude”.
This problem however, is not confined to India alone. War and conflict in several parts of the world has resulted that many people (particularly children and women) who flee war and persecution, often fall prey to unscrupulous human traffickers and/or smugglers. From Syria to Myanmar; from Congo to Colombia; from Afghanistan to Sudan ,the plight of migrant children labouring long hours in sweatshops; toiling in fields and other hazardous industries; begging on streets (supervised by syndicates) either in their own countries or in the ‘host’ countries is just despicable. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states that, “Over half of the world’s refugees are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment”.
The ISIS has captured an estimated 3.000 Yazidi women and use them as sex slaves. Several other refugee and migrant women virtually have no choice but to allow themselves to be sexually exploited since they are in the clutches of powerful traffickers.
The Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, has certainly been making efforts to address the endemic issues of this problem. Real change can come about only if world leaders and Governments have a committed political will to stop human trafficking. Pope Francis is one leader who has shown undeniable courage to keep the issue on the radar and emphasizing the importance of it being dealt with at different levels. He has been very vocal in his stand against human trafficking referring to it as “a crime against humanity” “a form of slavery”, “a grave violation of human rights” and “an atrocious scourge”. He has also said that there is also “evidence which brings one to doubt the real commitment of some important players.” This is plain- speak from the Pope who is certainly vexed about the problem and wants an immediate and urgent halt to it!
As we observe yet another day devoted to a fight against human trafficking, we need to pledge that we will show the courage and commitment to eliminate this crime against humanity, from the face of the earth!
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*Indian human rights activist, currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and   communications

Comments

Prasad Chacko said…
This article again reminds us again that in India in general and Gujarat in particular the model of development that is being pursued since the last 3 decades are creating more and more disguised slavery, especially of women and children. Let us hope that the voices of the victims and the affected communities are amplified as a result of our protests and advocacy.