An Indian woman sits at the home of a neighbor in Haryana, northern India. The woman who originally came from northeastern Assam state, is among an estimated more than 10,000 women bought or lured with the promise of a job from poorer Indian states. (Photo by Anna Zieminski/AFP)
The statistics on human trafficking in India make for disturbing reading; every eight minutes a child goes missing. The National Human Rights Commission says that about 40,000 children go missing and 11,000 are never found. About 10 percent of the human trafficking in India is international and the other 90 percent happens within India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, West Bengal is the hub for human trafficking followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra states. Delhi is the transit point. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime the vast majority of the victims in Asia are females, either adults or underage girls. The trafficking of males accounts for about 17 percent of the total number of victims, slightly lower than the global average, but trafficking in children is reported relatively frequently. In South Asia, the share of child victims detected is second only to Sub-Saharan Africa. Bangladesh also reports a high level of child trafficking while in Nepal women remain the most frequently reported victims of trafficking, according to the 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. According to the International Labor Organization, Human Trafficking is the third most lucrative crime in the world, after drugs and the arms trade. It is one of the worst violations of human rights since it denies the victim's right over their own person, their freedom and liberty, and forcibly extorts their labor exploiting them in innumerable ways. Needless to say, the victims are mostly drawn from poor and vulnerable sections of society. They are also found in areas where there is scant legal protection, where natural resources and livelihoods are scarce, and where governance is either poor or non-existent.
Societal response has been in the form of laws, special implementation mechanisms and the involvement of civil society organizations, some of them with special skills in addressing this hydra-headed crime. Due to the vast geographical areas of operation and complex manner of execution, anti-human trafficking bodies need to work in collaboration to bring about a successful outcome in the prevention, detection and prosecution of the crime and the rehabilitation of victims. They have formed networks to provide intelligence and generate collaborative efforts to carry out anti-trafficking operations and successfully rehabilitate victims, who are often abused by their captors physically, mentally and sexually. Rescued Nepalese women, who filed complaints against a Saudi unnamed diplomat for abusing and raping them in his house in New Delhi, India, arrive in Kathmandu airport on Sept. 10, 2015. Thousands of Nepalese leave their impoverished country to seek work in India as domestic helpers and laborers. (Photo by Prakash Mathema/AFP)
Hence, given this context, it is necessary for non-governmental organizations from across the country to not only deliberate on themes of collaboration, technology and public engagement but to actually develop a strong, well-resourced and unified national movement against trafficking and to collaborate on a national plan of action that would address gaps. We live in a country where the role of NGOs in addressing this issue is commendable and the judiciary aware and responsive to the problem. But more needs to be done. The issue of trafficking is more an issue of society than of law enforcement and civil society needs to take it more seriously. The role of media and communication in combating trafficking must not also be understated as with legal practitioners assisting in getting successful conviction rates. Industry can and should avoid hiring trafficked labor in high-risk sectors like the textile and garment industries. Best practices including the protection of whistle blowers, screening supply chains for bonded labor and direct recruitment, should be the norm not the exception. Other ethical practices include educating customers on the human costs of trafficking to help them understand the need for non-exploitative business practices that might incur higher costs. To better grasp the enormity of the problem, NGOs need to change the terminology of trafficking and refer to "stealing" or "selling" children — something that is easier for people to understand. But above all, it is the constitutional duty of every Indian to be active against human trafficking and take a stand to address the problem of profits raised from trafficking. Cynthia Stephen is a writer and researcher based in Bengaluru. She is also a social worker helping women and children in vulnerable situations.
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