Archive | October, 2007

After Punjab, Haryana, now bride buying catches on in UP

30 Oct

Tarannum Manjul
Posted online: Tuesday , October 30, 2007 at 12:00:00

Shahjahanpur, October 29 * Anita hails from a small village in Orissa. Five years ago, she was bought to village Shahganj in the Bhawaal Kheda block of district Shahjahanpur and sold off as a “wife” to Mahindar, a Pasi by caste, for Rs 7,500. Two children later, Anita still cannot talk to her “husband”, as she hardly understands his language. Moreover, the village does not consider her to be his wife.

* Meera Devi hails from Bihar. Rajiv, a Baniya, bought her for a mere Rs 8,000 two and a half years ago. So far, she hasn’t been able to conceive and Rajiv’s family feels they have wasted money on her.

If you thought the devil of buying brides has infected the states of Haryana and Punjab only, this might come as an eye-opener. In a district where the urban sex ratio is the lowest in the country at 678/1,000 and where the largest tehsil has a sex ratio of 535/1,000, the system of bride buying has become quite rampant in the last five years. Shahjahanpur’s block Bhawaal Kheda has several villages where, due to the low sex ratio, men have been buying brides from states like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. The price is anything between Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000.

Shahganj is one such village with a population of around 250 families. At least 60 per cent of the families here have bought “wives” from other states. And the trend, which started around five years ago, is still going strong. “We have been forced to buy brides from other states because there are hardly any women in our villages. The number of girls is really low in this region,” revealed the village pradhan, Lalaram.

Incidentally, a survey has revealed that bride buying cuts across barriers of caste and religion. Whether it is the Brahmins, the Pasis or the Scheduled Castes — all are involved in buying brides from other states.

Asha Devi, a 45-year-old widow from Kolkata, was bought as a wife by Brahmin widower Narayan Lal for Rs 10,000 — the “wedding fee” given to her son, she revealed — some five years ago. Asha Devi does go to Kolkata, where her son stays, once every two years. She may not be able to speak Hindi fluently but since Lal’s family is educated, they try to understand what she wants. “Here, I have no problems at all. Being a widow, I was rebuked back home. But now, I at least have a man who takes care of my needs,” says Asha.

Ram Lali (her maiden name was Anita) was bought by Ram Bhajan, a Baniya, from Kolkata four years ago for a “wedding fee” of Rs 10,000. She has four children and is happy that this marriage has saved her from a life of poverty. “The money my husband gave to my family has helped them survive. So it is not so bad for me,” says Ram Lali.

For the rest of the village, these “wives” are mere “arrangements”. Maheshwar, an elderly man in the village, said: “We know these women have been bought and proper ceremonies attached to marriage have not been performed. Hence, it is difficult for us to call them wives.” Mahindar, who bought Anita from Orissa, says, “I bought her from a man for Rs 7,500. She is satisfying all my needs and is also my children’s mother, but my relatives don’t like to call her my wife.”

Non Governmental organisations (NGOs) working on issues of maternal health and female foeticide in the village, say the declining sex ratio is indeed one of the major reasons behind bride buying. Sunil Singh of the Rahi Foundation, an NGO active in the district, said: “These women, who have been bought as wives, have no rights at all. They are brought here only as commodities and nothing else. One can also see that women are being trafficked here from states with high povertly like Orissa and West Bengal because their families need the money given in exchange.”

Dr Neelam Singh of Vatsalya, an NGO working across the state against female foeticide, feels strongly against the system of bride buying. “Women are being treated as machines that can be used to produce babies and satisfy sexual needs and they are being bought precisely for these reasons. Such practices have become commonplace because of the low sex ratio. The administration and government should ensure that social ills like female foeticide are eradicated so that the situation can change in the years to come.”

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Today’s Hidden Slave Trade

28 Oct

By BOB HERBERT
Published: October 27, 2007 New York Times

The woman testifying in federal court in Lower Manhattan could hardly have seemed more insignificant.

She was an immigrant from South Korea and a prostitute, who spoke little or no English. She worked, she said, in brothels in New York, Philadelphia, Georgia, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

She did not offer a portrait of the good life. Speaking through an interpreter, she told about the time in D.C. when a guy came in who looked “like a mental patient, a psycho.” Weirded out, she wanted nothing to do with him. But she said the woman who ran the brothel assured her everything would be fine.

It was fine if you consider wrestling with Hannibal Lecter fine. The john clawed at this woman, gouging her flesh, peeling the skin from her back and other parts of her body. She was badly injured.

According to the government, the woman was caught up in a prostitution and trafficking network that ruthlessly exploited young Korean women, some of whom “were smuggled into the country illegally.”

In prior eras, the slave trade was conducted openly, with ads prominently posted and the slaves paraded and inspected like animals, often at public auctions. Today’s sex traffickers, the heirs to that tradition, try to keep their activities hidden, although the rest of the sex trade, the sale of the women’s services, is advertised on a scale that can only be characterized as colossal.

As a society, we’re repelled by the slavery of old. But the wholesale transport of women and girls across international borders and around the U.S. — to serve as prostitutes under conditions that in most cases are coercive at best — stirs very little outrage.

Leaf through the Yellow Pages in some American cities and you’ll find pages upon pages of ads: “Korean Girl, 18 — Affordable.” “Korean and Japanese Dolls — Full Service.” “Barely Legal China Doll — Pretty and Petite.”

The Internet and magazines have staggering numbers of similar ads. Thousands upon thousands of women have been brought here from Asia and elsewhere and funneled into the sex trade, joining those who are already here and in the business but unable to keep up with the ferocious demand.

This human merchandise — whether imported or domestic — is still paraded, inspected and treated like animals.

What’s important to keep in mind is the great extent to which the sex trade involves real slavery (kidnapping and rape), widespread physical abuse, indentured servitude, exploitation of minors and many other forms of coercion. This modern-day variation on the ancient theme of bondage flourishes largely because of the indifference of the rest of us, and the misogyny that holds fast to the view of women — all women — as sexual commodities.

The case in Manhattan federal court involves a ring that, according to prosecutors, used massage parlors and spas as fronts for prostitution. Some of the women were in the U.S. legally. Others, according to the government, were brought in by brokers (more accurately, traffickers or dealers in flesh), who provided false passports, visas and other documents.

Elie Honig, an assistant United States attorney, said women brought in illegally were pushed into prostitution to earn money “to pay back the tens of thousands of dollars that the brokers charged the women as quote, unquote, fees for bringing them into the United States.”

He told the jury: “We are talking about a regional network of businesses throughout the Northeast United States and beyond involved in transporting and selling women.”

A jury will decide whether the five defendants in this case — all Korean women, and accused of running a prostitution enterprise — are guilty. But the activities alleged by the government mirror the sexual trafficking and organized prostitution that is carried out on a vast scale here in the U.S. and around the world.

There is nothing benign about these activities. Upwards of 18,000 foreign nationals are believed to be trafficked into the U.S. each year. According to the State Department, 80 percent of trafficked people are women and children, an overwhelming majority of whom are trafficked for sexual purposes.

Those who think that most of the women in prostitution want to be there are deluded. Surveys consistently show that a majority wants very much to leave. Apologists love to spread the fantasy of the happy hooker. But the world of the prostitute is typically filled with pimps, sadists, psychopaths, drug addicts, violent criminals and disease.

Jody Williams is a former prostitute who runs a support group called Sex Workers Anonymous. Few women want to become prostitutes, she told me, and nearly all would like to get out.

“They want to quit for the obvious reasons,” she said. “The danger. The physical and emotional distress. The toll that it takes. The shame.”

At home or school children remain equally vulnerable

22 Oct

At home or school children remain equally vulnerable

By HT

Monday October 22, 12:59 AM

Human trafficking is the world’s most lucrative businesses, after smuggling of arms and drugs. A study by Shakti Vahini, an NGO working on anti-trafficking issues, found that 378 of India’s 600 districts are affected by human trafficking. India is a major source and destination for trafficked children and by conservative estimates there are about three to five lakh girl children in commercial sex and organised prostitution.

The National Human Rights Commission estimates that around 45,000 children in India go missing every year. Most of them are driven into prostitution, forced to work at homes and factories, pushed into begging, drug peddling and even in illegal organ trade. For those children who have been trafficked and rescued, rehabilitation remains scarce and reintegration arduous.

Children are not even safe in their homes. A study conducted this year by the Ministry of Women and Child Development says two out of every three children in India are physically abused and in most cases parents and members of the family were the main perpetrators. Also around 54 per cent children have faced one or more forms of sexual abuse and states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Delhi are the front runners in child abuse cases.

The study found that children in the age group 5 to 12 reported higher levels of abuse and boys were as much at risk as girls. The high abuse has been attributed to our patriarchal society where parents consider their children as their property and assume the freedom to treat them as they like. Severe physical abuse also takes place outside homes. The most common forms are corporal punishment in schools and physical abuse at work places. The study says 62 per cent of corporal punishment was in government and municipal schools.

The study found that very often crimes against children are not reported, as some crimes are not covered under the existing laws. The National Crime Records Bureau reported 14,975 cases of various crimes against children in 2005 as against 5,972 cases in 2002. But this is only indicative in nature as it is based on reported cases. There is no comprehensive law on human trafficking, covering all its forms and purposes and the existing criminal laws fail to address the situation of child trafficking. In fact, the Goa Children’s Act 2003 is the only law that defines child trafficking, but this is just a state law and cannot be enforced countrywide.

Labour law enforcement is lax

By HT

Monday October 22, 12:59 AM

AS CHILD LABOUR continues to pose a daunting challenge, there is fresh evidence that a breakthrough could be in the making. Between 1950 to 2000, global child labour participation rates, declined from 27.6 to 11.3 per cent. The ILO reports that if in 2004 there were 218 million children trapped in child labour then their number fell by 11 per cent in the last four years. Encouraged, it believes that a future without child labour is within our grasp.

However, in India such a future remains a distant dream. While, child labour rates have indeed dropped by 22.45 per cent between 1950 to 2000, the country remains home to the world’s largest number of child workers. Caught between confusing statistics and a plethora of laws, the country has been making slow progress, but in the right direction. For example, Bihar, where some 24,879 children work in brick kilns, today boasts of the country’s first ‘child labor free’ block. Launched jointly by the district administration and NGOs, the `Happy Hisua’ campaign removed all child labourers in Hisua of Nawada district in Bihar in just 100 days, admitting them to schools.

Similarly, Maharashtra became the first state in the country to prepare a state action plan for the elimination of child labour. Its Task Force, set up in 2005 has reduced the number of child labourers in Mumbai from 27,500 to 8,900 in 2006. Raids carried out by Mumbai’s Juvenile Aid Police Unit (JAPU) have succeeded in sending 19,000 children home, if not enrolling them in schools. Important as these small victories may be, at the national level we seem to be losing the larger battle. The reason: lax implementation of labour laws. Surveys by the National Human Rights Commission have found that labour inspectors often conduct poor quality inspections, do faulty prosecutions and medical officers often falsify children’s ages at the behest of employers.

India could learn a thing or two from Turkey where a strict labour inspection campaign, has in the last two years saved 4,000 children. This coupled with the country’s time-bound national policy for the elimination of child labour, has helped reduce the number of its working children by 50 per cent in last five years. Or even from Brazil, whose Programa de Erradica and #231; and #227;o do Trabalho Infantil (PETI) has helped reduce child labour by 40 per cent in the last 12 years. Run by the Ministry of Social Assistance, it offers parents $30 per child per month on the condition that their 7-14 year old children attend school full time.

In fact it’s universally accepted, that eliminating child labour simply makes good economic sense. The ILO has calculated that forcing children to work will cost $5.1 trillion from now until 2020, but making them study instead will cost just $760 million. Thus, it’s high time the country shifts this fight for child rights into high gear and makes both rescuing and rehabilitating these exploited children a priority.


Everything can not be blamed on poverty

By HT

Monday October 22, 12:59 AM

It’s official; there is no investment more effective for achieving the millennium development goals than educating girls. So says the World Bank, adding that the more the girls that go to secondary school, the higher the country’s per capita income.

Even in the fields, their schooling translates directly to increased agricultural productivity. Yet gender disparities in education remain prevalent in India, where there are 136 out-of-school girls for every 100 boys. But there are good tidings as well, with incentives to the poorest families to send their daughters to school proving to be effective. The Centre for Equity Studies, for example, has attributed impressive surges in female enrolment (17 and 29 per cent in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan) largely to the mid-day meal programme. And across the country, primary enrolment for girls has increased by 31.6 per cent between 1980-2004.

Increasing education has unfortunately failed to check the mutation of traditional gender biases into a noxious new avatar: sex selective abortion. With female foeticide spreading to parts of the country where it was previously unheard of, thanks to modern technologies going where none have gone before, India’s child sex ratio has been declining in 80 per cent of its districts since 1991.

For once, the deteriorating social indicator cannot be blamed on poverty. Not only do the two most prosperous communities of Sikhs and Jains record the lowest child sex ratios, urban areas are worse off than rural ones despite boasting higher levels of both affluence and education, and economically booming states like Gujarat are neck-to-neck with sinking ones like Punjab in playing a deadly gender sweepstakes.

Similarly thriving across class lines is the entrenched tradition of child marriage, which also continues to find a following even among affluent and educated people. A Rajasthan situation analysis conducted by the MAMTA institute found that an alarming 96 per cent of the young people in the Jhunjhunu and Sawai Madhopur districts were married off before they were 18. Instead of going to school, the boys were forced to start earning while the girls were pushed into early childbirths. In a vicious cycle, every child out of school is a child ill-prepared to give the next generation a good start in life.

Yet, when a social worker’s hand was brutally chopped off for daring to campaign against child marriage in Madhya Pradesh, its Chief Minister reportedly said: “It is not possible to stop it. If Gandhi could not succeed in this, how can Babulal Gaur?” Clearly, important sections of our society remain ready to compromise children’s rights in the name of tradition. We need to convince them that a country flourishes only when its children are happy and healthy.

Child’s environment

By HT

Monday October 22, 12:59 AM

The evidence is compelling. Planners, implementers and academics all agree that the prevalence of malnutrition and child labour seriously obstructs economic growth.Dozens of global studies testify that children’s malnutrition upsets their lifelong productivity, disease resistance and cognitive abilities. For low-income countries, the annual cost of malnutrition is three to four per cent of their GDP, cautions an ADB-UNICEF study of seven Asian nations including India.

Let us take a quick look at the child’s environment in India. Sixty years after independence, most children lack proper access to safe drinking water, adequate medical care or sanitation. About two third of babies are born anemic and a third stunted, according to National Family Health Survey 2005-06. In six states for which complete data is available, only 60 per cent children are immunized. With 47 per cent of its below-five population malnourished, India tops the ignominious global chart of underweight children.

Those who survive such bleak circumstances grow up as potential victims of human trafficking, child abuse, forced labour, and hazardous work. Seventy five per cent children are physically and 50 per cent are sexually abused, according to a Ministry of Women and Child Development study 2007. Of this about a quarter of all children face severe sexual abuse and 50 per cent work seven days a week. India also leads the world in the prevalence of child labour, despite its official statistics widely believed to be understated.

This month, India’s ban on child labour completes one year. Its overall share of children at work has declined from 34 per cent in 1951 to a little over 12 per cent in 2001, but sadly, the absolute numbers may not have come down. Niti Mehta of the Sardar Patel Institute of Economics and Research says in a 2007 paper that a part of the 29 to 34 million ‘idlers’ (who are neither enrolled in schools nor a part of the official labour statistics as per 2003-04 NSS figures) could indirectly be working.

India recognizes the need for investing in children through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. Various Government ministries have proposed impressive schemes and enabling legislations for child protection but the progress is painfully slow and uneven. For instance, infant mortality is a notable 15/ 1000 in Goa against a pathetic 73/1000 live births in UP. The only way forward is to make the states, districts and panchayats realize that rather than a drain on resources, investment in children means prosperity for all.

18 Oct

Like other countries, India doesn’t monitor trafficking accurately; even global numbers are broad estimates

Alison Granito
New Delhi

Businesses in India’s fast growing economy may be judged by more than their employees, but also by the company they keep. Forced and trafficked labour are present in the supply chains of many Indian companies and most don’t know it, say analysts.

For companies in most industries, the risk isn’t that victims of trafficking or forced labour will end up working directly for them, but rather for those providing services, from a subcontractor of a construction firm building a new plant to local food establishments that provide catering services.

While experts say the issue isn’t on the radar of most Indian companies, one of the few exceptions is Tata Steel Ltd.

“We see our job essentially as risk mitigation,” says Sanjay Singh, vice-president, public affairs, at Tata Steel. “We have to ensure that people that are drawn to the area because of the project are there because they have chosen to be. You can’t go around with one eye shut just because it is a matter of convenience.”

Worldwide, the largely black-market trade in people generates at least $32 billion (Rs1.25 trillion) a year, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), which launched a major campaign on the issue in 2005.

Some 12.3 million people around the world are forced to work in labour-intensive industries such as construction, agriculture, sweatshops, food processing and preparation, domestic work, as well as the flesh trade, according to ILO.
“What we know is that South Asia trails only Southeast Asia in the number of trafficking victims, making it one of the most active places in the world for this and India is a major part of that,” says Patrick Belser, ILO’s Geneva-based research coordinator on forced labour, speaking via telephone from a hotel in New Delhi, where he was attending a UN-sponsored conference on trafficking in South Asia.
Like most governments, India doesn’t keep the necessary statistics to monitor trafficking accurately at the country level, meaning even the international numbers are broad estimates, says Belser.

One in five victims of forced labour is also a victim of trafficking, meaning they have been abducted, coerced or driven into their situation by fraud—usually a promise of a better job that has little resemblance to the one in which they end up. Once there, they often perform back-breaking physical labour with little to no protection from the elements, according to ILO and other UN bodies.

While the distinction between forced labour and trafficking can sometimes be blurred and some people can fall into both camps, those who aren’t victims of trafficking are often considered victims of forced labour because although they volunteer for work, they have to take on significant debt they have little to no chance of paying back, trapping them in the situation, say analysts.

“Fundamentally, the concerns that drive human trafficking are economic. Poverty, the desperate need for employment and other structural variables are prevalent here ” says PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner Anuradha Tuli. More than 300 million of India’s 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, according to the World Bank.
A few Indian firms have taken a hard look at their supply chains—Tuli’s firm has worked with “a major tea producer” she declined to name—but most remain unaware or choose to ignore the issue.

On Thursday, a “Delhi Declaration” against trafficking was announced at the UN-sponsored conference. The declaration aims to forge alliances to fight trafficking and forced labour in South Asia, including development of a business coalition against the illegal trade in people here.

Non-profit organizations working against trafficking hope to see corporate sector involvement on several levels. “The government still doesn’t have a database that can track missing and exploited children and there are many firms that could help them accomplish that,” says Shireen Miller, head of policy and advocacy for Save the Children, Bal Raksha, Bharat.

“To the extent that they can target their employees and raise awareness so they don’t use child or forced labour in their homes, that would also be a welcome move.”
As for Tata Steel, it will virtually double its capacity away from its Jamshedpur base in Jharkhand into Chhattisgarh and Orissa. So, it is set to oversee a lot of construction work. The firm asks all contractors to sign and adhere to its code of ethics, which addresses human rights issues, and performs checks to look for things such as evidence of forced labour, said Singh. And the same would apply to any subcontractor hired by a firm working for Tata, he said.

The process isn’t necessarily an easy one, he notes: “The steel industry supply chain is very, very long.”

Human trafficking: A determined enemy

16 Oct

Sidharth Pandey

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 (New Delhi)NDTV24X7
Every year close to one lakh Indians, mainly women and children simply disappear. Most end up either as bonded labour or are forced into prostitution.

On Wednesday the government and the United Nations came together and launched, as what is being called, one of the largest coordinated campaigns against human traffickers, even roping in Bollywood and Indian industry to take on the third largest organized criminal activity in the world.

Singing a song for the child victims of trafficking, singer Usha Utthup joined hands with other bollywood stars and NGOs to launch in India the Global fight against trafficking considered to be the third largest criminal activity next only to illegal drugs and arms sales.

”The children of red light areas are innocent and the real victims of trafficking,” said Usha Utthup, Singer.

According to estimates there are over 12 million child labourers in the country. Many of them end up being forced into prostitution in the country.

”I want the customers to be arrested, the demand is higher for even kids between 9-6 years of age. These people need to be punished,” said Renuka Choudhary, Minister, Women and Child Development.

Over the years several members of NGOs and police have been killed while fighting traffickers. The government and the United Nations say that they are fighting a very determined enemy.

”It is about 32 billion dollars industry. 800 thousand people are trafficked every year. The same people who are into moving arms also move people,” said Jeff Avina, Director of Operations, UNODC.

”Its is becoming a focal issue because of the international pressure, because of UN pressure. It is time we have a system in place which is coordinated and visible and accountable,” said Kiran Bedi, DG, BPRD.

India is one of the biggest sources as well as a destination for trafficking. While efforts are on to combat this highly organized crimes, delay in prosecution still remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks.

Fight on against child trafficking

16 Oct

Manu Sharma Sachdev

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 (New Delhi)
It has been a year since the government banned child labour but virtually nothing has changed on the ground, thanks to the complete lack of enforcement.

Less than a month after the ban on child labour comes into effect, three girls were rescued from the Gupta household in Faridabad’s IP colony. With nowhere to go, the bruised and traumatized girls spend five days in a police station while the accused go scot-free.

A year later, the government claims the child labour law is a huge success.

”We have been putting laws in place, the police is also being made aware. Its an evil we have to stop at all costs,” said Renuka Chaudhary, Minister, Women and Child Development.

These words mean nothing to the girls who have changed many homes in the last year. Finally they are starting to settle down in this Bal gram in Sonepat.

Their physical scars have started fading away. The emotional scars will take time to heal but justice is far from done.

The traffickers are still at large due to a lack of any will to take action. The family who exploited and abused them is also out on bail. And even though the families of the girls have been traced, they still can’t return home.

”My father had come to take me. But I had to tell him to go back because my case is on. After the case is over he will come and take me. It’s nice here. I play with my friends, but I want to go home,” said a victim of child trafficking.

Most of these children who’ve been rescued as child labour are also victims of trafficking.

Driven to desperation by poverty, these children are forced to look for ways to earn a living and end up falling prey to traffickers.

It’s been a year since the ban on child labour was imposed and amended trafficking prevention act. But even these stringent laws have not been adequate enough to get justice for these girls and many others like them. Ironically its overlapping laws and the administration that is not able to effectively implement them

Hunt for parents of ‘sold’ Bengal girl

16 Oct


Chandigarh, Oct. 15 The Telegraph :
A hunt is on for the parents of a 15-year-old Bengal girl who sold her for Rs 30,000 to a Haryana farmer in a case that highlights trafficking from the eastern state.
“We have arrested Ashok (the farmer) from Sonepat’s Seoti village. We are on the lookout for her parents,” a senior police officer said.
The arrest of Ashok, 30, followed a complaint from the girl — possibly the first in Haryana where such incidents are rare — that he had raped her after she was sold to him about three months ago.
According to the police, when the girl told Ashok she wanted to go home, he refused and, instead, demanded his money back. “It was then that she mustered the courage to ask us for help. She is now in the care of a social organisation in Delhi,” the officer said.
A police team will soon be sent to Nathanpur, her village in Bengal, and to Delhi, where the girl has claimed she was brought by her mother before being sold.
Haryana’s skewed sex ratio (861 girls to 1,000 boys) has fuelled trafficking from states like Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. They are brought for marriage but allegations abound that they are pushed into flesh trade.
Although official figures are not available, estimates put the number of “trafficked brides” — brought for marriage — in Haryana at 50,000. Shakti Vahini, a Delhi NGO that has conducted a survey to highlight the problem, puts the number of such brides in the Mewat region, which borders Delhi, alone at 10,000.

Foreign adoption gets simpler

16 Oct

New Delhi, Oct. 14: The government has prepared new adoption rules that will spare prospective foreign parents harassment and delays of over a year in adopting Indian children.

Indians who want to adopt may, however, have to wait even longer than they do at present.

Foreigners will no longer need clearance from the state governments’ adoption coordination agency, a process which officials and activists said often takes over a year.

“State government clearance takes over a year in most cases and is the main reason for the harassment and delays that prospective foreign parents face,” said a senior official of the Central Adoption Resource Agency (Cara).

Cara, the country’s apex adoption body, is likely to declare the new guidelines “anytime now”, sources said.

Under the new rules, the government will be responsible for identifying the agency in India that can offer a child for adoption. Now, foreigners have to first apply to their governments, which have to find and get in touch with adoption agencies in India on their own. This process, Cara officials said, delays the entire adoption procedure, increasing the trauma of the child as well.

“Once a child knows about the adoption, it is in his or her best interests to be handed over to the parents. Both sides need to know each other better,” the official said.

Indian parents may, however, have to wait longer before they can start a family with their adopted child as all applications will now be scrutinised by the Centre.

The existing rules allow Indians to approach agencies directly, increasing the possibility of trafficking and other crimes against children under the garb of adoption, officials said. Now, parents will have to first register with a “state adoption agency” recognised by Cara.

Trained social workers of the state agency will file a “home study” after visiting the home of the prospective parents and interacting with them. The report will be made available to Cara. The state agency will identify an adoption home that matches the child’s needs with what the parents want.

NEVER TOO YOUNG TO BE SOLD

16 Oct

Conviction for human trafficking is made especially difficult by the complicated and fluid nature of the crime, writes Sreyashi Dastidar

“Trafficking is about completely reducing accidents,” the smug, paunchy constable on the screen was saying, causing much amusement among the audience. But the laughter faded away — when a policewoman started talking about how her calls always got transferred to the vehicular traffic department when she called her headquarters and asked for the anti-trafficking section.

If this is the response of a large section of the law-enforcement establishment to the phenomenon of human trafficking — only seven per cent of Indian police personnel is known to have received any training in the subject — what exactly does it mean to say the two words in India? Or for that matter in Bangladesh, Nepal and the host of countries bunched together as south Asia? The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime may have realized that giving some age-old crimes an umbrella name does precious little by way of curbing them. Hence, perhaps, the idea of GIFT (the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking) and the keenness to have the government as the running mate — resulting in a two-day conference in New Delhi (October 10-11), which brought together NGOs, bureaucrats, ministers, filmstars, artists, corporate leaders, journalists, and, of course, policemen.

But where were the victims/survivors? It would be understandable if the decision to keep them away from the public forum was taken to show sensitivity to their “complex tragedy”. But what about their stories, the specifics of their cases, in the absence of which any discussion could only become a general exchange of pious intent? Case studies were too few and far between. Perhaps the idea was to show that exploitation and atrocities are the same everywhere?

One wishes the circumstances were the same, but they seldom are. How does one equate a girl lured away from a village in Meghalaya to a brothel in Delhi with the one pushed into beedi-binding by her own parents just so there is enough money to feed all the mouths in the family? Or a boy thrown into the laps of paedophiliac foreign tourists in Goa with one who runs away from starvation and poverty at home, to be picked up and employed by a brick-kiln owner who gives him a paltry daily wage and lunch? Which arm of the State — women and child development, labour, police, or home affairs if there is border-crossing — has failed to do its job in each of these cases, and which is responsible for ensuring that the trafficked person gets a livelihood and a respectable life?

This is why trafficking is such a tricky crime in developing countries with their many areas of darkness. In Haryana, for instance, where it is acceptable to destroy female foetuses and kill baby girls, young women are trafficked from Bengal and the Northeast and forced into marriage to keep the family line going. How does one, in the absence of a complaint from the girl or her family, initiate criminal proceedings against those who claim the girl as their daughter-in-law?

Not surprising, therefore, that three convictions are all that the anti-human trafficking campaign has to show for itself in India. Three is also the number of states — Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Goa — where anti-human trafficking units have been formed within the police force. But, as a senior bureaucrat pointed out, such cells tend to get identified as the ‘social’ desks (implying soft responsibility) and are put under weaker officers, while the complexities of the crimes require the most competent policeman at the helm.

It will be unfair to say, however, that any of the three states mentioned has a weak officer handling human trafficking, and the success of decoy-based raid-cum-rescue operations proves that law-enforcement agencies are waking up to the seriousness of the crime. But the problem here is that the anti-human trafficking units are located in the police headquarters in the state capitals, while the thanas in the districts and villages — from where most trafficked persons are sourced — are still largely oblivious to the threat.

More important, in the balance of power, the beneficiaries of trafficking — from the local dalals to the higher criminals who have the money both to buy human beings and to hush up investigations — have far too much advantage over those they buy, sell or exploit. In south Asian countries, where corruption is endemic to the system, how realistic is it to expect that the victims — raped, battered and psychologically wrecked — will be able to fight the unequal battle?

Of course, the NGOs are there to help with rescue, rehabilitation, and the all-important legal support. But most of them have not had it easy. An NGO worker from Hyderabad recounted how a rescued Nepali girl was repeatedly called to depose before the prosecution and asked embarrassing questions over and over again, in the hope that she would break down and withdraw her charges. It was a minor triumph that she did not, but what then? Going back to her squalid village in Nepal, waiting for the next lot of traffickers to pounce on her?

Rehabilitation and repatriation continue to be a sticky area in the discourse on trafficking in developing countries. For the State is unable to offer viable livelihoods to the rescued individuals, who often go back to sex work simply to ensure a steady income. If the State and the NGOs were better equipped with an infrastructure of shelter homes and self-employment schemes, most stories of trafficking could have had happy endings.

They may still, if the Delhi Declaration drawn up by the UNODC and the government of India, on the basis of the recommendations submitted by the working groups (connecting trafficking with business, law enforcement, HIV, and other issues), translates into any action. Thankfully, the UN label can still make the administration sit up and take note in countries like India. The UNODC intervention has already helped anti-trafficking units acquire a vehicle for operations, ensure victim-witness protection (extremely crucial if the rate of conviction is to be raised) and pool resources to house the rescued victim for a few days till he or she can be sent home or to a shelter. The Union minister for women and child development was heard promising changes in the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, so that trafficked girls are not doubly victimized by being charged with soliciting customers for sexual services. Bureaucrats and ministers from the labour and home affairs ministries seemed equally committed, but the NGO workers seemed to know better. They preferred taking a break for tea while the ministers waxed eloquent on the many challenges ahead.

While the conference was drawing to a close in Vigyan Bhavan, a murky drama was unfolding in another part of the capital. An American citizen of Indian origin and three accomplices were arrested for trying to traffic folk artists from Punjab to the US. Since the artists were charged Rs 15-20 lakh each, this is probably a case of smuggling of migrants rather than trafficking (smuggled migrants are consenting individuals, while trafficked persons are coerced or lured). But the outcome of the case — whether it results in prosecution and conviction — could indicate what lies in store for those fighting to stop human trafficking in this part of the world.

Married into Traffic

16 Oct

Deepali Gaur Singh, RH Reality Check,
Asia on October 15, 2007 – 8:17am

Endless films from the stables of the Indian film industry in the late seventies and eighties dealt with the issue of a false promise of marriage, the onset of an illegitimate pregnancy and emotions galore on being a virtuous as opposed to an ‘unwed’ mother. In extreme circumstances the paramour would be simply bumped off to avoid embarrassment and social ostracism. In other situations, the ‘good man’ (read ‘hero’ of the film) would propose marriage to the now ‘soiled’ lady in question. That is really what is at the center of many Asian social set-ups – marriage. Marriage redeems you, marriage apparently protects you, marriage gives you a legal status. But for the millions of child brides in the continent, marriage is the vehicle that transports you into yet another zone of exploitation beyond redemption – due precisely to the protection marriage enjoys as a societal sanction.

The practice of child marriage, though banned way back in the 1920s in colonial India, continues to be practiced quite openly under the purview of religion and traditional beliefs. In some states the auspicious occasions of festivals are an excuse to solemnize mass marriages of mostly under-age boys and girls very much under the watchful eyes of the law. And that is what makes the conditions of these young girls even more poignant. With such a high premium on marriage parents more often than not are willing to marry their young daughters to the first eligible man. Yes, man! because many of the grooms are much older widowers or men who would have abandoned their earlier wives for various reasons ranging from inadequate dowry to the inability to bear a male child.

The practice of child brides has been responsible for several other malpractices ranging from early widowhood – meaning abandonment by families – and so for many an almost natural transgression to the commercial sex trade or the devdasi system etc. Today, one in every three girls (33%) in India is married before they reach the age of fifteen – often a child herself and completely ill-equipped to bear a child. Besides it condemns her to a life of illiteracy, economic dependency and psychological and physical incapacity.

But what makes their situation even more risky is that very often marriage is the ruse used to dupe their families into literally selling their daughters into the commercial sex trade. In India it is one of the common routes into the sex trade for many women. Women, especially from rural areas and small towns, who entered into matrimonial alliances with out-of-towners found themselves being sold off to the next customer in the chain the minute they move out of the relatively more secure surroundings of their villages. People living within the community were the first links in the chain to take these fresh recruits to the sex trade. As part of the socio-economic set-up of the village, they know which family is poor or has too many daughters (dowry-related problems lead more and more poor girls into getting duped by false promises to marry); which family has lost breadwinner or is in debt; who has been deserted by a husband or lover (especially since families refuse to take them back for fear of social approbation and spoiling the marriage prospects of younger sisters); or which woman is pregnant or a widow. In poor societies trapped within the walls of their own traditional facades it actually is quite easy to ensnare the unsuspecting victims since instead of demanding dowry as most grooms and their families do, these fake grooms also pick up tabs for the marriage. And once taken from a remote village these penniless and illiterate women just get lost somewhere in the world that greets them, hardly ever being able to make their way back home and often choosing not too.

The human trafficking network is today considered the third-largest source of profits in organized crime, next only to the narcotics trafficking and the arms trade. And the trafficking of children usually happens through well organized networks of family, relatives, friends, community leaders, brokers, the pimps and owners of brothels, the police, political connections and the criminal nexus. So in countries like Afghanistan where the arms-for-drugs nexus already flourishes, the trafficking of children has just become another component of this already existing network. Human trafficking has been closely related to the drug trafficking routes and the established narco-mafia. Often parents here have been known to sell off their daughters as brides to pay-off debts in the poverty-stricken country – debts against a destroyed poppy crop, debts against food on the table for he rest of the family. And often these young girls (often also boys) are then sold off to the next buyer in this onward route of exploitation.

The size of the trade in the country can be gauged from the fact that over time India has become the source, transit and destination point in the international circuit with children in huge numbers being trafficked within and outside the country. India shares a porous border with over seven counties where political instability and economic compulsions are reasons at play for young girls from Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and even as far Uzbekistan, to be sold to traffickers with a one way route, either into or through India. Trafficked children and women from these countries frequently on an onward journey to other countries in the Middle East often find themselves bonded to sweatshop labour, domestic servitude and forced marriages or sex slavery with the only thing that changes is the manner and method of coercion.

Nearly 64 per cent of India’s districts are affected by human trafficking. And while ten percent of it is international, the domestic market is where the lion’s share finds itself. In many cases it is the demographic imbalance caused by sex selective abortions in several states that has ensured the regular demand for child brides from poorer families and states to the “states of demand.”

And a more recent controversial judgment by the Supreme Court on the question of whether the breach of promise to marry could amount to rape really needs to be seen in each context. (The woman’s statement was that the consent she granted for sexual intercourse was conditioned upon the promise of marriage). While courts hardly ought to be the refuge for every woman upset at being dumped seeking to avenge her ex-boyfriend by filing suit yet, hopefully this judgment would not be used as a precedent for subsequent cases considering that women from smaller towns an villages invariably get sucked into the vortex of the sex industry simply by virtue of the promise of a false marriage and the high premium placed on the chastity of prospective brides. There have been instances of women who were raped, promised marriage and subsequently sold-off to the next bidder. The permutation-combinations for the relationship between young brides, marriages and sexual exploitation are innumerable. The end result remains the same.

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