ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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human Trafficking: Convicting the Victims

Convicting the Victims Going by the findings of a recent National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)


Convicting the Victims

oing by the findings of a recent National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) – United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) – Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) report, India seems to be rapidly emerging as a source, a transit point as well as a destination for trafficking in women and children. What is worse is that the traffickers go scot-free, while the victims – those procured, taken in transit, re-sold and then subjected to long-term exploitation – are arrested, charge-sheeted, prosecuted and convicted. Further, those rescued by the official agencies are reported to be subjected to human rights violations during the rescue and post-rescue phases. The extent of their being re-trafficked is not insignificant; the failure to rehabilitate the victims leaves them with no real alternative but to resubmit to a life of being abused.

The report finds a high rate of trafficking in women and children within Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Delhi and Goa are among the main destinations of trafficking from other states. Among the source states, Andhra Pradesh heads the list. As expected, the sources of initial “procurement” are the economically most backward districts of the country, as also those of Nepal and Bangladesh, where there is a severe lack of livelihood options. The socio-economic context is one of deep economic deprivation and social discrimination. Women and children in households that are simply unable to cope with the pressures of life are those who face a high risk of being trafficked. Girl children are the most vulnerable. The phenomena get accentuated in times of acute economic distress, such as droughts and floods. The traffickers lure, deceive, threaten and/or coerce their victims to submit to commercial sexual exploitation or other forms of bondage. The study found that 68 per cent of the sample of the victims of trafficking who ended up in brothels were lured with the promise of a job, while 16.8 per cent were enticed by the promise of marriage. Deception thus seems to be the main instrument of the traffickers at the source.

While for the girl victims of trafficking the end point is a brothel, for boys it is hard labour in poor working conditions at abysmally low wages. On being “procured” the children are subject to a chain of traffickers who exploit them en route, instilling fear through threats and punishments so that the victim eventually becomes submissive and obeys all orders. One can only imagine what the trafficked adolescent goes through in her/his mind – negative experiences of abuse and trauma, thoughts and feelings of malevolence and helplessness, the sense that a person who has been brutally raped and traumatised makes of her/his sexuality, etc. In this respect, there is a helpful chapter by the consultant psychiatrist Achal Bhagat on ‘The Mind of the Survivor: Psychosocial Impacts…’

The study finds that trafficking related to child sex tourism has gone up considerably. It seems that with the tightening of law and enforcement in countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Cambodia, people from abroad and local tourists are travelling more to Goa, Rajasthan and Kerala, among others, to engage in commercial sex acts with adolescent children, with devastating consequences for the latter, including physical and psychological trauma, disease (even HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, and so on. Such tourists get the anonymity they desire in places like Kollam, Alapuzha, Ernakulam, Kovalam and Fort Cochin, where the enforcement agencies are said to turn a blind eye. But more generally, besides weak law enforcement, corruption and internet networks fuel the business.

Overall, the NHRC-UNIFEM-ISS report finds that almost 50 per cent of the persons in the networks of the traffickers are women, although, as expected, the “master” traffickers (those who control the organised networks) are men. The kingpins are rarely, if ever, prosecuted and convicted. The study team found no instances of forfeit or confiscation of the illegal wealth amassed by these men. On the other hand, the victims of trafficking are treated as criminals. Of the approximately 14,000 persons arrested every year under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956, around “90 per cent are women, despite the fact that the majority of the exploiters and abusers, including traffickers, clients, etc, are men”. Mostly, it is the victims who get convicted, thereby, in effect, victimising the trafficked persons in the process of delivering “justice”.


Economic and Political Weekly January 21, 2006

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