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How Climate Change Has Increased Vulnerability To Trafficking In The Sundarbans

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Kultali and Joynagar regions have agriculture as their main source of income. The socio-economic conditions, in general, are very poor and they also demonstrate the highest rate of crime against women in the Sundarban. Also, in the vulnerability analysis done by UNDP HDR, the two blocks are classified as extremely vulnerable. 

A case study done in these areas of Sundarban shows the highest rates of human trafficking of girls in the region. The year 2009 witnessed the highest number of women being trafficked that coincided with the occurrence of cyclone Aila. The cyclone had destroyed the houses and livelihoods of the inhabitants, leaving them to perish in utter deprivation. Life got progressively insecure and using these vulnerable conditions as opportunities, girls started getting trafficked at an unprecedented rate.  

While men migrated elsewhere to earn a living, middlemen took this as an opportunity to ensnare the women of the house in the sex trade. According to the local people of Gosaba, tourism has increased the business of middlemen taking women off to the tourists for the sex trade. 

The Sundarbans are a collection of densely populated islands in India’s sprawling Ganges Delta. This remote region, on the Indian-Bangladesh borders, has always been vulnerable to the malice of human traffickers, an issue that was exaggerated by Cyclone Aila in May of 2009. The cyclone displaced a lot of people rendering them homeless and struggling to survive. The devastating effects of climate change-related natural disasters like cyclone Aila often exacerbate the vulnerability of individuals.

The impoverished families are often forced to send their young children, aged as young as 9 years, to work in factories or small shops in order to earn. The prevalence of child labour has enabled human trafficking in several regions. The traffickers often deceive young girls and families with fake promises of marriage or employment. The girls are then abducted and sold into prostitution or are made to work as domestic workers, sometimes even as far as the middle-east. These girls are never able to come back to their families. 

What emerged as key contributors to people’s vulnerability in the Sundarbans to trafficking was: 

  • An absence of social or educational infrastructure. 
  • Inequities supported by gender, caste, class, religion and indigeneity. 
  • High rates of gender-based violence, landlessness and lack or loss of livelihoods. 
  • Food insecurity and hunger.
  • Severe poverty and indebtedness.
  • Natural disasters and environmental degradation.
  • Displacement or forced migration. 

Although these contextual factors are further aggravated by global climate change, the impact of global climate change was unaccounted for while analysing the vulnerability to trafficking. This low human development characterises the region with wide gender inequities in multiple arenas including educational attainment, work participation and gender-based violence. 

The Sundarbans has a high representation of Muslim, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribal groups, as well as undocumented Bangladeshi migrants and landless households that have historically and occasionally faced discrimination, marginalisation and poverty. These social-political dimensions intersect with climate and environmental change and leave the people in this region highly vulnerable to human trafficking.

The bulk of the population engages in agriculture, aquaculture and also the collection of prawn seeds and non-timber forest produce for their livelihood. But recurrent floods and cyclones, erratic rainfall, increased temperatures and rising sea-level have contributed to soil and water salinisation, crop losses, soil infertility and significant long-term reductions in agricultural yields, adversely impacting local livelihoods.

In the context of increasingly degraded environments and natural resources, women must travel farther and spend longer on the gathering of water, fuel, fodder and forest produces, in addition to livestock and agricultural production. 

As the access to a productive and dignified life and resources become scarcer and women’s work burden intensify, there’s less time available for education and alternative income generation activities. Additionally, when men migrate out because of resource pressures and loss of livelihood, women’s work burdens deepen further. In such contexts, children are also far away from school to assist the family with domestic or wage work.

Climate change remains mostly unanalysed and under-conceptualised as one of the deep-rooted drivers of vulnerability. Examining specific regions and communities that are vulnerable to climate change-related natural disasters and are understood to be hubs for human-trafficking can potentially reveal the need to build knowledge regarding the ill-effects of climate change within the discourses of human-trafficking research and policy.

What other reasons can you think of for the vulnerability of women and minors in the outskirts, which might lead to sex trafficking? Please share it with us in the comments below.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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