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Over 5000 Indians Were Pushed To ‘Modern Slavery’ Daily In 2 Years, Report Reveals

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By Shreya Mittal & Sukanya Bhattacharyya, IndiaSpend.com:

“No one can imagine such a painful life. There is much torture on me and I am punished even at my minor mistakes like a child. My family is always living under threats. There is also physical violence against me and my family members.” – A survey respondent, India State Survey, Global Slavery Index, 2016

child labour
A child working at a factory. Source: Akshay Gupta/Getty

As many as 18.3 million Indians live in conditions listed as ‘modern slavery’ in 2016, equivalent to the population of Netherlands, a rise of 4.1 million since 2014, according to a new global report. In other words, 5,616 Indians were enslaved every day over these two years.

On an average, 51 out of every 100 people are vulnerable to modern slavery – bonded labour, forced begging, forced marriage, domestic services and commercial sex work – in India, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016 compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, an advocacy based in Australia.

India has the fourth-highest proportion of people living under enslaved conditions, after North Korea, Uzbekistan and Cambodia. India was at fifth position in modern slavery in 2014, changing place with Qatar, the report said.

“The term modern slavery refers to situations where one person has taken away another person’s freedom – to control their body, their freedom to choose, to refuse certain work or to stop working – so that they can be exploited. Freedom is taken away by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power and deception,” the Global Slavery Index 2016 report said.

The Asia-Pacific region has the highest number of people living under conditions of modern slavery; almost 46% of human trafficking is reported from the region. While 83% victims are male, around 17% are female.

Forced and child marriage are high in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Indonesia. A sex-ratio imbalance, resulting in absence of brides in India, has fuelled the trafficking of women and forced marriage.

Sexual slavery has risen in concert with economic prosperity in India, IndiaSpend reported in April 2016.

The informal nature of the Indian economy has an effect on vulnerability, and accounts, in large part, for modern slavery, which is related to economic, gender and caste inequalities, as this Economic Times report said.

In states hit by Maoist violence, such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, boys and girls between the ages of six and 12 were recruited in children’s units, the ET report said.

These are the ways in which Indians find themselves in modern-day slavery:

Bonded labour: This practice persists in India, mainly because of debt, and the entire family is exposed to the risks of physical violence. People are forced to work under unhealthy conditions, and physical violence is meted out, if they refuse to work. More than 300,000 people were identified as bonded labour, with the largest official number in Uttar Pradesh (896,301), followed by Maharashtra (496,916), according to this answer given to the Lok Sabha in December 2015.

Domestic services: As many as 4.2 million people, including men, women and children, work as gardeners, cleaners, drivers, cooks and caregivers across the entire country. This kind of human slavery is prone to overtime working hours, withholding wages, insufficient remuneration and sometimes even physical and sexual violence, according to 2004 data published by US-based Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO).

Forced begging: Many Indian beggars are under criminal pressure. Primary survey conducted by Walk Free Foundation suggests that beggars are deprived of basic needs of survival and continuously threatened by their employers. The leading source of income for children living on streets is rag-picking, practiced by 16% of homeless children, according to a five-city study by Save the Children, an advocacy. Begging is a leading occupation for 8% boys and 14% girls, but most girls are also involved in taking care of their siblings and other household work, IndiaSpend reported in April 2016.

Commercial sexual exploitation: Women are beaten or forced to work under threat of violence and their families are threatened with legal action if they do not capitulate once enslaved by prostitution. The estimated number of sex workers in India is three million, of whom 1.2 million are below 18 years of age, according to this 2013 report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Forced marriage: About half of women are forced to marry in India before the legal age of 18 and then made to work as unpaid labourers. More than 9,000 married women were bought from the states of Assam and West Bengal to Haryana, according to this May 2013 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The study – involving more than 10,000 households – said people who buy brides usually deny having done so, IndiaSpend reported in December 2014.

Human Trafficking Cases Up 92% In Six Years

About 5,500 cases were registered across India under existing human slavery laws in 2014, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. Human trafficking rose 92% over six years to 2014, IndiaSpend reported in August 2015.

Over the past five years, 23% of human-trafficking cases led to a conviction. As many as 45,375 people were arrested and 10,134 persons were convicted. Punishments range from fines to imprisonment. Over the past five years, Andhra Pradesh reported the most arrests (7,450), followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

What The Government Is Trying To Do

The government has drafted a ‘National Policy for Domestic Workers’, which is currently awaiting Cabinet approval.

If enacted, the policy would ensure a minimum salary of Rs 9,000 to skilled domestic help, paid- and maternity-leaves, social security, and the right to bargain collectively. It will also include provisions against sexual harassment and bonded labour for domestic workers.

More than 20,000 police personnel have been trained in victim identification, implementation of the new legal framework and victim-centred investigations.

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.com, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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