Trafficking of girls for commercial exploitation, domestic labour and forced early marriages continues to be a serious problem in India. For a vast number of trafficked women and children, who are subsequently rescued, rehabilitation and repatriation mechanisms are scarce and their reintegration in society is also very difficult.
Buying and selling of girls for prostitution is a shameful and serious concern both for the country and the society at large. Importation of girls has increased by 93.5 per cent (NCBR 2005). Most of these cases are reported from Bihar and Jharkhand. There are lot of poor girls being trafficked from Nepal too. There has been a significant increase in the number of cases registered under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956 (ITPA) and most of these have been registered in Tamil Nadu as compared to other states.
For the crimes of immoral nature committed against children, only a few arrested offenders could be convicted representing only about a 30 per cent conviction rate. 85 per cent of the trafficked victims have been below the age of 30 years. It is important to note that offenders were known to the victims in as many as 85 per cent cases.
Reasons behind trafficking
A variety of conditions compel women and children to take up immoral work. These range from acute poverty, family'sinability to pay dowry, desertion or widowhood or being lured into the profession by promise of a job, to an overall lack of skills as a result of little or no education.
While many families live in remote areas with very few livelihood options, others are caught up in unrelenting cycles of migration in search of work. Still other families consist of single-parent households where survival itself is at times a formidable struggle. Violence and sexual abuse in some of these settings fail to provide children with an environment where their rights are protected. Such children are often pushed either into immoral work or low-paid labour. Often families with little or no income are compelled to sell their children to others who offer the child work. There are estimated more than 12 million child labourers in India. Most have never been to school or have dropped out before completing primary school. In Bihar, Nagaland, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, 60 per cent or more girls dropped out before completing their first five years of education.
Poverty can force children out of school, into work and drive them from home on to the streets. The presence of a large number of street children, who receive no protection either from the family or the state, makes the situation more complex and one accepts or not they are invariably sexually exploited irrespective of their sex.
Roughly 20 per cent of the Indian population is considered migrant, 77 per cent of whom are women and children. They are often at greater risk of exploitation and tend to accept jobs on unfair terms. Forced relocation in conditions of distress, natural disasters or conflict also affect them psychologically and economically.
Reports collected across the country brought out the fact that a significant number of cases registered against trafficked children and women were in the age group of 10-20 years. This is a fluid age group with the fine line dividing between major and a minor. Knowing the correct age of the trafficked person is critical to the outcome of a case, because very often the trafficked person may actually be below 18 years but is declared as above 18 years in the age-determination report.
Inaccurate age determination makes a crucial difference in the conduct of the proceedings in a court of law and can result in a miscarriage of justice, as according to the ITPA, trafficing of minors is a more heinous offence warranting more stringnent punishment as compared to adults (less than 18 years).
In most cases the trafficked victims do not have birth/school registration certificates to prove their age and therefore the medical examination report submitted by the Medical Officer to the court is an important and crucial document, which assist the Judicial Officer in rendering justice to the victim by prosecuting the trafficker and sending the victim to a protective home.
Government of India and UNICEF in collaboration with the district administration and local NGOs, are trying to set up a data base of trafficking routes, traffickers, and trafficked minors and women in order to make effective interventions. It is believed that well organised trafficker groups are operating in the country and have patronage of bigwigs in the country.
There is need to focus on community sensitisation and mobilisation for prevention of trafficking. Village based anti-trafficking committees comprising of local youth, self-help group members and elected representatives at panchayat level should be established. These committees in vulnerable villages need to monitor, follow up and counsel girls and women who are approached by relatives or friends in the guise of offering employment. The committees should initiate action against traffickers by registering police cases against them. Motivated volunteers and local administration should link vulnerable women and girls to development schemes. Minors and women need to be trained in livelihood skills and facilitated to find alternative options.
Trafficking of children for commercial exploitation is a heinous crime. It is on increase and should be curbed. Civil society should come forward to root it out from society.
Rape crisis centre should be made in all districts where these trafficked victims are delt at one place. Secondly coordination of various government agencies and various stake-holders is badly needed, which is totally lacking, with the result that no body is accountable in the system.
(The author is chairperson of IMA'swomen wing.)