Reading the stories of missing children and adults should educate us on the need for enhanced protection measures to stop trafficking
When Rani (name changed) went missing, she was 12 years old. She had gone to collect water from a hand-pump near her house, as she did every evening. That day, her kidnapper came up behind her and held a rag to her face, making her pass out.
She came back to her senses only to find herself hundreds of miles away from home in a small village in Uttar Pradesh. She came to know that she was going to be sold for prostitution. However, she did not know where she was. Her parents searched desperately for her and lost the hope that they would ever see their dearest child again.
Guria, an anti-trafficking organisation in Varanasi which monitors cases of missing children, started an investigation and discovered the identity of the kidnapper and where Rani was being held. They helped her parents rescue their daughter with the help of the police.
When police found Rani, she broke into tears seeing her father. She ran to him and started crying as she could not believe that she finally got saved after what turned out to be a long traumatic period for her. She then returned home with the hope to start afresh.
Chandni (name changed) was 12 when she was taken from her village in Khunti district, Jharkhand and brought to Delhi to do domestic work. Sindur Tola Gramoday Vikas Vidyalaya (SGVV), an ally of ActionAid India and Shakti Vahini, a social organisation, intervened and managed to rescue Chandni with the help of the police. Chandni is now back to her family and attending school.
Monali (name changed), however, was not as lucky as Rani and Chandni. She was 13 years old, studying in Class VI when someone kidnapped her from her home in Medinipur district of West Bengal and trafficked her to the Kalahandi district of Odisha. She was tortured and abused, raped by her trafficker and was going to be sold as a child bride. Her courage, however, did not let her give up; it finally paid off as she managed to escape one day. A car driver found her terrified in a local market and took her to the police station. Suchetana Mohila Mondali, an anti-trafficking organisation and ally of ActionAid India, linked up with her and took her to her family. But they refused to accept her. Monali now lives in a government shelter home.
Like Rani, Chandni and Monali, a countless number of children and adults become victims of trafficking every year. While some are fortunate enough to get back to their families, there are several others whose families cannot find them or who are no longer accepted by their families when they manage to get back home. Incidents of missing people are many times not even reported to the police and if reported, the First Information Reports (FIRs) in several instances don’t get registered, thereby leading to the search never starting and leaving the rescue aspect out of question. Traffickers target children from the poorest families since they are more vulnerable as their families are often unable to secure help from the authorities.
The category of missing children and adults includes a range of cases – abduction or kidnapping, trafficking, runaways and lost children. A significant number of children and adults run away to the “glamorous” big cities where they fall prey to exploiters and are employed in homes, at tea stalls, in brothels and for beggary under very exploitative terms and without any safeguards.
Sumukhi (name changed) left for Delhi in search of work at the age of 25. However, sadly, nobody in the family has heard from Sumukhi since then. Her family doesn’t know where she is. Her mother worries about how she is and desperately wants her back. With the help of SGVV, Sumukhi’s mother registered a complaint in the Khunti police station situated in Jharkhand’s Khunti district. However, Sumukhi is still missing but her family still hopes that they will have her back someday.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, a total of 8,132 cases of human trafficking were reported in the year 2016 from across the country. As per that data, West Bengal had a share of over 44.01% of the total cases with 3,579 cases, followed by Rajasthan which accounted for 17.49% with 1,422 reported cases. Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu were next in line with 548, 517 and 434 cases respectively. Women accounted for over 65% of the victims trafficked in 2016.
Meanwhile, there have also been incidents where the victims were tricked and deceived by the people they knew and trusted. This is an even worse situation for the victims; they, several times, don’t even resist or struggle knowing that they will have to get back to the same place and face the same person who is responsible for their misery.
Saraswati (name changed) went missing at the age of 20, from her village in East Medinipur district in West Bengal. When Suchetna Mohila Mondali rescued her from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, it turned out that she was sold by her alcoholic father. The trafficker was trying to sell her as a bride. She had been shifted from one place to another and was raped several times by many different people. During the ordeal, she was constantly trying to escape from their clutches, and one day, she succeeded. She reached an ashram in Aligarh and narrated her story. The ashram officials then contacted Suchetna Mohila Mondali who rescued Saraswati with the help of the local police.
Thirty five-year-old Sonapari (name changed) was trafficked by her own friend who promised to find a bridegroom for her. She was drugged and abused by her trafficker and was sold four times to different people in different places. She somehow managed to contact her sister and told her everything after that she was rescued by Suchetana Mohila Mondali with the help of the local administration.
Damini (name changed) was offered a job in Haryana by a person from her village. The family trusted him and therefore, sent Damini with him. But she never returned. Her brother went all the way to Haryana to search for her but her employers didn’t let her leave. Years later, Damini’s family received a letter informing them that Damini had run away; the letter was from the police station. Damini’s brother again went to Haryana along with the letter received to lodge an FIR but the police kept the letter and sent him back. He then lodged an FIR in Khunti police station with the help of SGVV. However, there is no information on Damini yet but the family hopes to see her someday.
A major concern is on the front of implementation of the existing laws meant to fight human trafficking. We need a stronger engagement to strengthen the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act), Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.
Also, the effective implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 to provide all children with free and compulsory education till the age of 14, a more effective child protection mechanism and a strict check on the placement agencies will reduce the risk of child trafficking.
In rural areas, the village head (Gram Pradhan) and the village council (Gram Sabha) need to be held accountable at the village and Panchayat levels. Besides, the adolescents and youth need to be provided with skill-training, and employment opportunities need to be ensured in rural areas. The Integrated Child Protection Units also need to be sensitized and empowered. Awareness programmes need to be run with adolescents at schools and in the community.
While much needs to be done to stop trafficking, the start can be made with a vigilant community – engaged, empowered and active to ensure proactive measures, and a speedy response by the concerned authorities.
Note: Compiled by Varsha Rani Tirkey based on inputs from Sharad Kumari, Maneesha Bhatia, Reshmi Ganguly and Ashok Kumar Nayak, all work in ActionAid India.