Many rescued trafficking victims return to brothels, slavery

By Sahil Makkar, IANS

New Delhi : A very large number of women and girls rescued from human trafficking gangs are forced back into prostitution and slavery while some even return willingly, a senior UN official has said.

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“The issue of human trafficking has emerged as a serious problem globally. In India, around 10,000 human trafficking victims, mostly women and young girls, are rescued annually from traffickers or touts,” said P.M. Nair of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).

“But at least 2,500 women and young children are re-trafficked into prostitution and slavery, either through force or on their own wish to return to the place from where they were rescued,” Nair told IANS.

Nair, a police officer of West Bengal cadre, said laws relating to human trafficking in the country were adequate and powerful, but the slow conviction of those behind the trafficking and lack of awareness among police officials handling such cases have contributed to the phenomenon in a major way.

“The number of cases registered or the percentage of convictions of traffickers is low. The victims often feel harassed when brought in contact with law enforcement officials,” Nair said.

“A recent National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) survey says that only seven percent of the police personnel have received any kind of training related to human trafficking,” he added.

Gary Lewis, chief of UNODC here, said rehabilitation and repatriation of the rescued women and girls was not possible as the resources were inadequate to support them, even within NGO sectors.

“They (victims) prefer staying back in the trade as most of them are underprivileged and have no other livelihood option. Sometimes the victims deliberately choose such a profession,” Lewis told IANS.

According to the UN definition, trafficking in persons means the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion abduction, of fraud, for the purpose of exploitation.

According to UN estimates, approximately 150,000 people are trafficked within South Asia annually with children and young women being lured from their homes with promises of a good job, good marriage, or stardom in the entertainment industry.

Many are forced into prostitution or slavery where they suffer unspeakable indignities and hardship. In some countries women are sold as brides in forced marriages, in others children are forced to work as jockeys in camel races.

Lewis said that in cases where a victim is trafficked across the national border everything changes for her. She is told that she owes a large amount of money for the passport and her travel to the trafficker.

“She is forced to work as a prostitute until the debt is paid, but as most of the money she makes is taken from her she is never able to repay the debt. She becomes a slave and is afraid to go to the police thinking that they might simply deport her,” Lewis said.

“If she runs away then the organised crime gangs which trafficked her might harm her or her family,” he added.

“Around 600,000 to 800,000 women and children are trafficked across borders every year. Human trafficking is a booming illegal international trade, making an estimated $32 billion annually at the expense of millions of victims,” says the official website of the UN.

Lewis said in India, 20,000-25,000 women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh annually, while 5,000-15,000 are brought illegally from Nepal for the primary purpose of prostitution and slavery.

“The response to combating human trafficking by the countries of South Asia has been inadequate. There is limited awareness and although knowledge of and the willingness to speak out against trafficking has increased significantly in the past half-decade, it is still only at minimal levels,” Lewis said.

“In addition to the lack of awareness, existing anti-trafficking legislations in most countries are inadequate. The law enforcement response – which is meant to provide an effective deterrent to traffickers – is also weak, irresponsive and not victim-friendly,” he added.

The UN website says that except for Sri Lanka, none of the other countries of South Asia have signed the UNTOC Protocol on Trafficking.

UNDOC is holding a two-day conference on human trafficking in the capital Oct 10-11.