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Human Trafficking – the Untamable Epidemic
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By Anuradha Kataria Gut wrenching stories abound in the media about victims of human trafficking especially women and girls who go down in a vortex of severe and repeated abuse – from which few are rescued and fewer still ever rehabilitated. The UN estimates that 2.4 million people across the globe are victims of human trafficking and about 80% are being exploited as sexual slaves. Only one out of every 100 victims is ever rescued given the criminal network surrounding it and it is nearly a $ 31 billion industry. While there is so much noise over it in the media, the crime seems far from abated, to the contrary is on the rise. Perhaps the focus is on the wrong end of the problem. While the international bodies and at times some of the Western governments like the US put pressure on the developing countries to frame laws to nab the culprits, there is little the latter end up doing given their dismal state of law enforcement. Perhaps there is a need to focus on the source areas which are typically remote and lacking in even basic awareness about the hazards of trafficking. There are some UN initiatives in this area but not enough. Further, poverty is often touted as the prime cause of trafficking but a lot of the urban poor are not trafficked. Poverty is no doubt a causal factor but the problem goes beyond that. Let us examine the issue in its complexity and ascertain a probable solution which the source countries “can” implement. Delving into the mechanism, let us look at the story of Hamida (name changed), a Bangladeshi girl who was lured with the promise of a job by a family confidante, as is often the case, and trafficked into India when she was only 10 years old. Isolated from her base community, she suffered huge amount of abuse in an alien land where she could approach no one for help given also that she spoke a different language. Many of the alleged abusers were cops themselves. With some quirk of fate she was rescued and also helped by an evangelist Ms Roma Debabrata (who then started an NGO called STOP to curb trafficking in India). However, the justice system was long embroiled and grossly insensitive that became an even more traumatizing ordeal for her and ended predictably in a verdict that allowed most of her alleged tormentors to walk away scot free. And it could be argued that India is still a far better country than many others in the developing world! A key problem remains not in framing of laws, which are framed in abundance especially in a parliamentary system but in lack of law enforcement. More often than not, the police system is bought into the trafficking chain and the culprits are too many and in collusion whereas the victim alone. The justice system is long drawn with cases taking up to and over 10 years and often resulting in negligible conviction rates. The social attitudes towards women victims remain regressive marred by indifference, blame and ostracism. In such a callous legal –social environment, a victim is actually better off not fighting for justice as it is a system that is going to harass her more than it would the oppressors. Hamida’s tale is a telling “house of horrors” and typifies the treatment trafficking victims receive. But quite apart from the sorry tales of victimhood and lack of justice, what is the root cause of the problem and how can it be addressed. The plight of the victims of trafficking is never ending given the emotional damage they suffer leaving them scarred, angry, temperamental and mistrustful and nearly impossible to adjust back into the society. Prevention is always better than cure but in the case of trafficking, the only way out; once a victim has fallen into the dungeon there is only one way to go which is down. It may yet be better to prevent trafficking by nipping it in the bud in the source areas - to ascertain how, let us examine the causes in depth. While poverty is at the root cause of trafficking, an interesting point Ms Roma Debabrata makes that even in urban slums there is a lot of poverty but the girls and women are not sold into trafficking. For instance a rickshaw puller in a city hardly makes a living but his daughters and wives are not sold into trafficking. Rooted in their communities, howsoever impoverished, they are not isolated and the community protects them somewhat. It is always some unsuspecting young girl or woman from a far flung remote area that is suddenly brought into an alien city that falls as easy prey to the monster. Alone and isolated from any kind of societal support system, the victims become vulnerable to repeated abuse as they are totally at the mercy of the pimp who brought them. A victim’s “Isolation” is the core mechanism that feeds the cycle of trafficking and victimization. In the source areas, the causal factors that lure unsuspecting victims into the ring remain lack of employment opportunities as well as ignorance about trafficking hazards. There is awareness in the large cities given their exposure to the media but none in the source areas – which are largely remote and rural. People are not aware of the dangers of sending minor girls alone to far flung places in the hands of a supposedly trusted uncle or aunt who lures them with promises of a job and money. Once isolated from their community, these girls are easy to exploit and abuse. From a long term perspective, it is essential to spread development to rural areas but in the immediate term, it is crucial to run awareness campaigns on trafficking hazards in the source areas - using all media like TV, radio, cinemas and word of mouth through the local village bodies etc. People need to become aware that even in a village they may have little or no money but far flung cities are but mean destinations for girls/ women. There is a need for greater awareness about what kind of slavery and drudgery possibly awaits these girls as they are lured away by the idea of making some money. If the families were aware of the way the mechanism works, they are less likely to send young little girls in the hands of some distant relative who is pretending to be a well wisher. It may go to curb, not all, but much of the problem at its source. So far as the law enforcement goes, it remains pathetic and no doubt needs a drastic shake up but in all likelihood, is unlikely to happen. However, taking employment opportunities to villages is a possible task but again has an unexpected rider in poor democracies. Apparently, the same rural folk who throng cities in search of jobs and live a wretched existence in urban slums, also oppose setting up of industries in rural areas. Often times the activists and opposition parties convince them that industry by itself is evil and will take away their rights and land. There is a need to educate first the activists and then the people about the fallacy in that logic. They need to be educated about the benefits of setting up industries in rural areas such that jobs go where people live and they don’t have to be uprooted from their environment to seek the oxymoronic heavens of urban slums in increasingly overcrowded large cities. Least of all, sending young girls alone to the “big bad cities” tantamount to a criminal act given the likely risks and hazards they are putting these girls into. Even in rural poverty they have a certain freedom, security and communal belonging which shield them from heinous crime and exploitation. So while the rhetoric of better law enforcement may continue, thus far it has not yielded any results. The problem can be nipped in the bud through intensive awareness campaigns in the source areas or else it becomes too big a menace to tackle given the present day law enforcement that exists in most of the third world and it could be said also in the first world when it comes to tackling an organized crime like this. The UN and other organizations have undertaken some initiatives along these lines but it needs greater focus. Targeting the source areas still needs to be developed as a full-fledged campaign and the core platform to tackle trafficking and perhaps should be the direction most countries should be pressurized into pursuing. As is rightly said, freedom is priceless - all human beings deserve freedom and no one should have to undergo this form of heinous and repeated abuse that destroys their body, spirit and trust in fellow humans completely. That 2.4 million people are suffering such forms of slavery and exploitation in our ashamedly modern times, calls for greater focus and action and perhaps a different approach to curb the “yet growing” epidemic! About the Author Ms Anuradha Kataria is a Writer cum Researcher at present based in Delhi (NCR), India. She has published a book as well as several editorials on developing world issues, particularly a critique of democracy in the developing world. www.anuradhakataria.blogspot.com anukat3@gmail.com

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Tue, October 02, 2012 11:41 PM (about 52990 hours ago)
Hi,Anu
I read your article and liked it.You are always working in very serious matters
Pratibha
 
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