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Diocese stands alone in fighting trafficking

Sister takes vulnerable strays under her wing

Diocese stands alone in fighting trafficking
Maria Francis Britto, Jashpur

March 14, 2012

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When Sister Anne saw a teenager begging on a railway platform, she was moved by her plight and stopped to talk to her. She found that Sunika (name changed) had a story that was every bit as pitiable as her appearance. Sunika had lost her mother and wanted to get away from her abusive father. She took refuge with an aunt, who sold her to an agent then vanished. The 14-year-old was taken to Mumbai, Goa and Delhi. At each place, she escaped from abusive employers. Now she had returned to the area she originally hailed from, with nothing but the ragged clothes she was wearing. Coincidentally, Sr Anne was at the railway station in Jashpur, Chhattisgarh, to welcome back a girl who had been abducted from her parish in nearby Kansabel. She took Sunika under her wing too, helping her gain admission to a local Catholic school hostel. Sunika was one of the lucky ones. Thousands of girls and women have been lured to the big cities from this mainly tribal, poverty-stricken region. It is rare that they encounter good fortune and prosperity there. More often, they are physically abused and forced into prostitution. "Innocent girls, mostly in their teens and unaware of what lies ahead,  often go without their parents’ knowledge,” says Father Praful Kujur, director of Jashpur diocese’s human trafficking department. “The girls are taken far away to cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and even to South Indian states. Sometimes they are lured there by their own relatives.” According to a diocesan survey made in 2007, 3,642 victims had been trafficked out of 293 local villages. One of Fr Kujur’s co-workers, St. Anne Sister Sewti Panna, adds that “since the agents take away all their money, they are not able to escape.” “Some have never returned. Others have come back sick and died. Some have developed abnormalities.” The Jashpur diocese initiative to stop the trafficking has been in action since 2005. Many men and women religious in the area have also taken it up as their personal ministry. It operates on several fronts.  “We organize various programs in partnership with youth groups, women’s organizations and parish councils, in which we share victims’ experiences through exhibitions and plays,” says Fr Kujur. “To a certain extent the menace has been arrested. Now many Catholics are not interested in going out and falling prey to touts and traffickers.” Fr Kujur laments that no other charity or voluntary organization has come forward to help the diocese in its efforts. “However, since this issue has often been raised in the state assembly, the civic officials are very cooperative in curbing human trafficking,” says Sr Panna, who is also a lawyer. “Whenever we need to, we can contact the police and they will stop the girls from being taken away from the bus stands or the railway stations.” A 2006 UN report states that human trafficking is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world. India serves as a major hub of activity, with an estimated three million sex workers in the country. Related links: Church Presses For New Law to Check Human Trafficking In India  
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