The Covid-19 lock-down has affected the most vulnerable populations who are being exposed to a host of problems and human trafficking (TIP) is one of them.
Paul* (name changed) was among the 7 migrant workers from Assam’s Karbi Anglong district rescued in Chennai on 21 May 2020. They were persuaded by a recruiting agent with food and shelter. Paul’s former employer had left them on their own to starve as the lock-down was imposed.
With no money and place for shelter, they had to hop from one place to another in search of food. The language barrier made it even more difficult for them to communicate their desire to return back to their native places. Paul and his friends were provided food after being rescued by the Tamil Nadu police officials and sheltered in SR College premises. Today they are safe and back at their native home.
The vulnerability of the ‘at-risk population’, particularly those from low socio-economic backgrounds, to social exploitation was of serious concern even before lockdown began. With the pandemic-induced economic crisis, the situation is likely to worsen. It is extremely critical to protect the millions who may become potential victims of forced labour and trafficking in the aftermath of the crisis.
Research studies done in the past have shown that patriarchal norms and poverty are common contributors in most trafficking situations. Meanwhile, another significant factor to consider is that during and post any disaster there has always been a high surge in the trafficking of women and children.
As a large number of poorer sections drop into poverty and dire distress, the consequences are likely to worsen. It is, therefore, critical to address the vulnerabilities in the aftermath of a crisis like COVIDCovid-19, where:
While it is significantly important to provide support, food and shelter urgently to those who are stranded and have no source of support, it is pertinent to invoke a sense of urgency caused due to this humanitarian crisis.
It is important to proactively track the situation of vulnerable people stranded in the cities and those who have returned home. This will require an intentional effort to create economic opportunities, to address issues of trafficking of persons, at the source, transit and destination hotspots. Skill mapping both in the source and destination areas is important to be able to match the skills of the workers.
A holistic multifaceted approach keeping women and children at the heart of all government and NGO-led interventions to prevent and address risks of trafficking is important to consider in order to prevent the malaise of trafficking and abuse.
We need to create a safe space for children and women at their homes and neighbourhoods, ensuring that a “trusted network” is established to report and call out any kind of abuse at homes, schools or in the neighbourhood.
As lockdowns are lifted, factories and businesses can proactively make mandatory rules on ethical supply chain procedures, from recruitment to employment, by adopting heightened systems of accountability. It is not enough to consider the risk to factories and big businesses alone. We must also consider the risks involved for the people working in these factories and industries, who can be affected and exploited directly or indirectly.
Human Trafficking is possibly the worst form of human rights violation. It is therefore significant and moral responsibility on the part of common masses and the lawmakers to prevent and protect the most vulnerable, as we take steps to reform our systems and structures in the post lockdown period.