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Spurt in Trafficking, Courtesy Pandemic

Spurt in Trafficking, Courtesy Pandemic

girl saying no to human trafficing

Among umpteen social vices that the current pandemic has facilitated a rise, trafficking of young girls is a major cause for concern.

Phulkumari (name changed) has many cut marks on her wrist, scars that constantly remind her of the several years she spent in a brothel.

“Three years of hell,” she recalls as she was sexually exploited countless times.

Daughter of a fisherman from a cyclone(Amphan) ravaged area of the Sundarbans, 13-year-old Phulkumari was trafficked by a local shopkeeper in 2012.

He tricked her into believing that she would get a job as a domestic help with a good salary.

Once in Delhi, he sold her to a lady brothel owner.

After three years, she was rescued by a local NGO with the help of police.

But even after her return to home, the trauma of the past haunted her and she turned suicidal, trying to slit her wrist multiple times.

Slowly recuperating now, Phulkumari hopes no one ever goes through the ordeal she did.

Parveen (name changed), another survivor of trafficking, does not remember her parents.

She  faintly recalls her father. She was trafficked at a young age and forced into prostitution.

She was finally rescued from a brothel in Sonagachi, West Bengal, in 2013 at the age of 21 after enduring tormenting years of sexual abuse.

Both Phulkumari and Parveen are among thousands of young girls and women who get trafficked in different parts of the country every year.

This year,with the outbreak of the coronavirus, activists and researchers are worried over an exponential increase in human trafficking cases.

On top of it, a survey has stated that only 27 per cent of the Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) are functional at present.

Can the government and civic society control the spurt of cases which are not even being reported?

Do the authorities have the actual data of impoverished young girls being trafficked during the pandemic ?

A tough question indeed !

Roop Sen, anti-trafficking researcher and gender rights activist, feels that those on the margins of society are vulnerable to trafficking.

“The reasons are manifold like debt trap, closing down of factories, restaurants and retail shops, probable rise in demand of young girls and women in red light areas,” says Sen.

Among the steps the government can take to combat human trafficking, he suggests, include cash transfer initiative to more vulnerable families and communities, and creating safe migration services.

Sambhu Nanda, an activist from West Bengal who coordinates an NGO-network called Partners for Anti-Trafficking ,stresses on the need for being watchful on trafficking hotspots.

“Even when parents report the cases to local police stations, the officers plead helpless since all their energies are currently focussed on COVID prevention,” he rightly points out.

In fact, the vulnerabilities have been existing for a long time; but the pandemic-induced lockdown have turned them into highly visible issues.

N Rammohan, anti-trafficking activist from Andhra Pradesh who runs NGO HELP, claimed that many sex workers,  the lone earning members for their families especially their children, have waded into a vicious loan trap during the lockdown .

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“The local loan sharks operating in red light areas, are poaching women with adolescent girls and encouraging them to take loans under high interest,” he said.

“Once they will be unable to repay their loans, the sex workers would be forced to prostitute their daughters.”

Priti Mahara, Director, Policy Research and Advocacy at CRY (Child Rights and You) feels that the Covid-19 has given rise to multidimensional poverty.

The separated and orphaned children run a grave risk of being trafficked : “This is exactly what has been happening in West Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Odisha” she avers.

“There are increased chances of many children getting separated from families, becoming orphans or falling out of the safety net” .

Cases of elopement or luring teenagers with the promise to marry has increased during the lockdown and is increasing in the post-lockdown phase.

According to Prabhat Kumar, deputy director of child protection for NGO Save the Children,  when ever there is a disaster, there is a rise in trafficking cases due to the crisis that follows.

Because, it becomes easier to recruit people and send them for trafficking, forced labour or sexual exploitation.

The economic crisis, lack of enforcement mechanisms and migrant labour crisis might lead to further spurt in trafficking in near future, cautions Kumar.

Also Read: Abduction of 5 Arunachalis new tactics by PLA? 

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