38.3% rise in human trafficking cases, great demand for tribal & Muslim girls
In the 23 years since Sheeba was born and raised in one of Assam's villages, she never imagined that her life would turn into a nightmare such as this.
A year ago, she was kidnapped from her village in Assam and sold to a Haryana Jat family in Bhiwani for Rs 60,000. She had been bought to be made into a bride for a Jat boy. She was threatened, dolled up, married, made to change her ethnic Muslim name to a Hindu one, pressured to give up her religion and forced to live a life under constant surveillance and pretence. Six months later, she was pregnant.
A week ago, after several attempts, she managed to finally reach a phone and called her parents, who had been desperately searching for her. That's when NGO Shakti Vahini stepped in, alerting the Haryana Police, who rescued Sheeba.
Today, she's sitting at a police station in Bhiwani, five months pregnant, waiting for her parents to pick her up, and unsure how to feel about the baby moving inside, which is now too big to abort.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 76% of human trafficking cases nationwide over the last decade have involved girls and women.
The trafficking of minor girls - the second-most prevalent trafficking crime - surged 14 times over the last decade and increased 65% in 2014, according to data released last year by the NCRB.
On World Day Against Trafficking of Persons, 30 July, Catch brings you stories of its widespread prevalance, the new trends, the sickening "market" demands, the newer ways of commodification of women and remind you of the all time low conviction rates that keep the crime unchecked.
Tribals, Muslims, children
According to a CID report from Assam, over 5,000 children went missing between 2012 and 2015.
For tribal families in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, to occasionally find one of their daughters missing is a familiar horror story. Two weeks ago, 32 young women were rescued in Allahabad. They were all from villages in the forests of Chhattisgarh; 18 of them were minors.
"The girls were promised labour in Uttar Pradesh, forced into flesh trade in Allahabad, told to keep the shame a secret back home, and were promptly sent back home every few months to meet their families," Rishikant of Shakti Vahini told Catch.
According to The Times of India, this was the third lot of girls returning to the state from UP's Barau village, prominent for prostitution. These girls hailed from Balod and Rajnandgaon. The previous group of girls were natives of Janjgir-Champa, Baloda Bazaar and Korba.
CID ADGP Rajeev Srivastava was quoted as saying: "Tribal girls from Chhattisgarh are subjected to all kinds of trafficking, but Operation Smile and our police teams' hard work to file FIR immediately after a person goes missing, has been building pressure on traffickers. Now, leaving metros, they are rooting themselves in suburbs where the risk factor is low but the rates have gone high in rural pockets. We are strengthening our information network from panchayat level."
Rishikant said: "There is a growing demand for dark-skinned girls. Tribal girls are striking, and are trafficked when they are very young from Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand's villages."
An expert on the trafficking menace, who did not wish to be named, confirmed that the most worrying trend India is seeing today is the rise in the number of Muslim girls being sold as brides to Haryana's Jat families.
"I can safely say that seven out of 10 girls who are trafficked out of Assam's and Bengal's villages are Muslim. They are forced to change their names, their identities, their religions and live like slaves," the activist said.
West Bengal is the hub of human trafficking in India. It had the maximum human trafficking cases (669) amongst all the states in 2013, followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Why conviction rates are low
A few weeks ago, the CBI unearthed information about a human trafficking racket, and estimated that around 8,000 women were transported to Dubai using Delhi as a transit point.
More recently, there were reports about a man who trafficked 5,000 tribal kids from the remotest areas of Jharkhand.
But these 'jackpot' rescue operations are far too rare. Most cases go unrecorded and the perpetrators aren't caught.
The number of registered human trafficking cases has increased by 38.3% over five years - from 2,848 in 2009 to 3,940 in 2013. The conviction rate for such cases has declined by 45% - from 1,279 in 2009 to 702 in 2013.
Rishikant explains that the biggest factor to blame for low conviction rates is an insensitive judiciary.
"Most of the girls who are trafficked come from very remote areas. They have low self confidence and it is hard to get them to share their experiences. The inquiry officer who questions them in order to file an FIR asks such insensitive questions and is so shortsighted in his questioning that the entire process, the sequence of events, almost never gets recorded. Most FIRs will only reveal where a victim was found last. Trafficking has a complex journey which, if traced accurately, can yield much higher convictions," he said.
Once the FIR is recorded, the victim has to face the harrowing experience of facing an insensitive public prosecutor. "The victim never has a strong lawyer. It is always the accused who has intimidating lawyers. Every effort is made in the questioning to break the confidence of the victim who has gathered all her guts to recall her journey," Rishikant explained.
Some years ago a girl, from Midnapore trafficked to Delhi's GB Road broke out of a brothel on her own by physically breaking down a wall. She fell in love with a good man with a white collar job and gave birth to two kids. When the police called her for a court hearing recently, she didn't want to go.
She simply did not want to recall the horror of her past life to a judiciary that hardly cared.
(Some names have been changed to protect identities)
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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