Bought and Sold Like Cattle Under Law's Nose
CHENNAI: Stringent laws, pro-active enforcement and tireless social-workers aside, human trafficking continues to be part of the grim reality existing on the periphery of society. Despite considerable awareness and laws, activists and officials feel that trafficking is an issue that needs continual and increasing focus by all sections of society.
There has been several measures taken to address the issue: a United Nations resolution in 2013 declared July 30 as The World Day Against Trafficking to “raise awareness of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.” In India, judges and officials worked on a comprehensive report on trafficking in 2002-04, which was later instrumental in the Home Ministry instructing states to set up Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) in every district.
“We discovered that the police were doing one thing, the NGOs another and the government something else. But end result was that nobody was doing anything,” says PM Nair, the IPS officer who spearheaded setting up AHTUs. The Women and Child Development Ministry also runs a separate scheme for prevention of trafficking titled Ujjwala.
Till a few years ago, women and children were likely targets for traffickers as they were used in the sex trade or the begging rackets. Now, as Nair points out, the trade supplies humans for the gigantic labour market and organ-trade, apart from sex-work, wherever there is demand. It is a misconception that only the poor or children were trafficked, he adds.
“Anybody who is vulnerable or belongs to a disadvantaged community is a target for trafficking. It depends on the ingenuity of the perpetrator,” Nair says.
A leading psychiatrist from Chennai who counsels trafficked women after they have been rescued, says that many of them are educated and are trapped after running away from dysfunctional families.
“Other reasons include debt, bad company, while among children many are plainly kidnapped or tricked,” the doctor says.
Even in the labour market, it is not just the omnipresent brick-kilns or matchstick factories where bonded men, women and children are employed.
“It has diversified. A few weeks ago, tribals were rescued from an earthworm collecting unit near Gummidipoondi in Chennai’s neighbouring Thiruvallur district,” says Mathew Joji, who is part of the Internnational Justice Mission (IJM), an NGO which works closely with district revenue officials to rescue bonded labourers.
Last week, the ChildLine Centre at Chennai Egmore station rescued a few children who were returning from a footwear making unit in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh.
Those involved in prostitution rackets are tech-savvy, luring young girls through Facebook and Twitter, points out Isabel Richardson, an activist who works with trafficking victims. Intimidation and physical abuse is rife during transportation.
“During travel, traffickers often pose as relatives and intimidate the victims into repeating that when someone asks,” she says.
Despite repeated instances, Tamil Nadu is a State which has been pro-active in curbing trafficking say activists. Bonded labourers are regularly detected in the vicinity of Chennai, a factor which can be credited to the huge migration from Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, say activists.
The State police has 40 Anti Human Trafficking Units, which operate under the CB-CID, and dedicated Child Welfare Officers (CWO), who deal with abandoned or missing children. NGOs like IJM and ChildLine work closely with rescue operations, and in most cases, act as the information source for detecting human trafficking.
“For example, when sex workers are rescued, action is taken against the agents and not the sex worker,” says former DGP of Tamil Nadu police, R Nataraj.
Despite this, activists say that issues remain. “The focus is more on the rehabilitation of the rescued people and the perpetrators manage to slip away, despite stringent laws like Section 370A of the IPC and the ITP Act,” says Mathew.
State police officials blame it on poor co-ordination. “If police get information, they can charge a perpetrator under IPC. But its the revenue officials who are involved in the rescue-operations,” says an inspector working in an AHTU. “When trafficking is discovered, say in a brick kiln, there is very little solid evidence to nail the perpetrator,” a senior police official explains.
To resolve this, Nair suggests that Tamil Nadu and other states should come out with a comprehensive policy and action plan on trafficking which encompasses those trafficked into sex trade, organ trade, bonded labour, and begging. “There should be a single body which co-ordinates activities of all bodies like the police, labour and revenue department,” he says.