Rescued Child Trafficking Victims Recount Tales of Horror at Public Hearing

The lackadaisical response of the police and judiciary has led to delays in justice and resulted in child-trafficking perpetrators getting away scot free.

A 16-year-old girl stands inside a protection home on the outskirts of New Delhi November 9, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Mansi Thapliyal/Files.

A 16-year-old girl stands inside a protection home on the outskirts of New Delhi November 9, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Mansi Thapliyal/Files.

New Delhi: The pain and trauma associated with child trafficking remains with victims long after they are rescued. In most cases, either victims or their families do not pursue cases against their tormentors, or the police, state and prosecution are too slow to react in order to provide them with speedy justice. This was the sum and substance of what emerged at a public hearing on the issue of child trafficking organised on June 22 by HAQ: Centre for Child Rights and Campaign Against Child Trafficking (CACT) with support from the Krishna Rao Foundation and iPartner India. The event was held in partnership with the India International Centre and the Foundation for Independent Journalism, publisher of The Wire.

At the event, the purpose of which was to listen to the testimonies of victims and several non-governmental organisations working for their rehabilitation, a number of children recalled how they had either been kidnapped, lured away with the promise of marriage by their lovers, or simply handed over by their parents to their tormentors due to poverty. For most of them, what followed was days of torture. While some of the girls were raped, gang-raped, sold and pushed into prostitution, repeatedly beaten and even burnt with cigarette and bidi butts, others were forced to marry men much older to them. The boys were primarily pushed into forced child labour.

Most of the victims broke down as they narrated their tales of horror, prompting the organisers to intervene and leave it to them if they wanted to depose before the jury, comprising senior Supreme Court advocate and former Additional Solicitor General Sidharth Luthra, well known theatre personality and award-winning director of several socially relevant productions Lushin Dubey and senior journalist Om Thanvi. The idea behind the programme was to produce a ‘verdict’, with the jury suggesting how child trafficking can be prevented and the perpetrators punished expeditiously, thereby providing quick justice to the victims. The text of this verdict is reproduced in full below:

According to Bharti Ali, co-founder of HAQ, which had in 2000 undertaken a national study titled ‘Child Trafficking in India’ (one of the first reports that examined the comprehensive nature of trafficking in the country), “one common thread which runs through all the cases of child trafficking is poverty”. Children are either kidnapped by those wanting to make some easy money, or leave home on their own in order to escape poverty. Sometimes children are handed over by poverty-stricken parents to people who offer to marry the children and offer money to the parents in return.

With a child being trafficked somewhere in India every eight minutes, the purpose of the hearing was to bring together CACT partners as well as rescued victims of child trafficking. “We will take these voices forward to the government,” said Ali, pointing out that the Ministry of Women and Child Development recently released a draft of The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2016 and invited public comments on it.

Ali also spoke about how the response of government departments through the Right to Information line has deteriorated over the years. She said while India was earlier considered only a transit or destination point, it has now also emerged as a major source point and children from here are being trafficked to several countries, including in Africa. While the scale of the menace is growing, authorities continue to remain apathetic about the situation.

The testimonies

At the hearing, several girls painfully recalled how they had been abducted or lured and abused. One of them, from the Nizamuddin area of Delhi and who was just 13 when she was abducted by three men while she was on her way to the market, said she was given steroids to look more mature. She was repeatedly sexually assaulted for upto eight months. During this period she was also sold twice.

After being rescued, she said, she learnt that her mother had repeatedly visited the police station but the cops did not register her complaint and turned her away each time. With the accused threatening the family and her father having passed away, the girl said “I have no strength left to fight the case”. Though she has already been called by a special court on eight occasions, there has not been much progress in the case as either “the lawyers are not there or the judge is on leave”.

Another girl, from North 24 Parganas in West Bengal and who was 14 years old when she was trafficked in 2006, recalled how she was lured to Delhi on the pretext of employment by an aunt and her neighbour but was later sold to a woman who pushed her into the flesh trade. Though she was assaulted by many people, no one was arrested barring the neighbour, Tulsi. The girl later returned to her studies and has since been inducted into Kolkata police. “I would only say that 12-13 year olds should not leave their home for work as they can be exploited,” was her advice to all others like her.

Yet another girl from North 24 Parganas, who was lured by a boy who confessed his love to her but later sold her to a woman in Pune, said she was unaware of the status of her case. But back home, she has not told anyone about her ordeal of being pushed into prostitution. “My parents should not come to know what really happened to me or they will die,” was the plea of the girl to her NGO before the hearing. She too is now employed with Kolkata police.

The most touching of all the depositions was from a girl from Assam who was enticed by an acquaintance on the pretext of marriage, but was drugged and brought to Delhi instead. She was later taken to Fatehabad in Haryana where she was raped by several men, who even threatened to kill her if she resisted. She was later sold off.

After being rescued, she said, she mustered  the courage to return to her studies. In order to buy her books, she sold off a laptop she was given under an Assam government education scheme. The state apparently does not have a compensation scheme for victims of trafficking. The girl passed her class 12 examination this year and appealed for everyone present to help fund further education for her. Although the Assam police has registered a case, no arrests have been made so far in connection with her case.

What new research reveals

As these cases reveal, perpetrators of child trafficking and rape often go scot free. Though trafficking is no longer considered synonymous with prostitution, victims continue to suffer due to the absence of proper investigation, speedy prosecution and strict sentencing.

HAQ stated in its earlier report: “…what makes the issue of trafficking complex is that very often it is difficult to distinguish between the cause and purpose of trafficking. For example, while children are trafficked for religious prostitution, the cultural and religious sanction is the cause of trafficking. Similarly, marriage may be the means to traffic young girls for labour or prostitution, but trafficking may be for the purpose of marriage. A similar situation applies to adoption.”

That report had formed the basis of launching a national campaign against child trafficking in 2001. Although 15 years have passed since and much has changed, much unfortunately remains the same.

The new report on child trafficking lays down how children are now trafficked within the country and across borders. Data has emerged through global reports on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) which the US Department of State has begun compiling. These reports rank countries based on their performance. India has been consistently ranked as a Tier 2 Country, which means that the US has flagged the issue of trafficking in India and made recommendations.

“A collation of information from the TIP reports over the years shows that India is not just a destination or a transit country, it also a source country to 18 countries in Africa (Uganda, Kenya and South Africa), South Asia (Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan) S.E. Asia (Singapore and Malaysia), Middle East (UAE and Kuwait), Pacific Islands (Fiji), Europe (Cyprus, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Norway, Austria, Finland),” the report said.

“At the same time, India remains a country of transit. Children are brought from neighbouring countries before being transported elsewhere,” it added.

On gaps in state response, the report said, “at the level of the government of India, the problem of human trafficking, including child trafficking, is multidimensional and requires coordination between other ministries like the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, etc. The Ministry of Women and Child (MWCD) continues to be the nodal ministry and is also responsible for inter-ministerial coordination for tackling this crime with respect to children.”

But clearly, it said, there are problems as highlighted by the 2015 TIP report which stated that, “The government of India does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking…. Many Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), which liaise with other agencies and refer victims to shelters, were not functioning and NGOs assessed that government victim care services were inconsistent and inadequate for the scale of India’s trafficking problem… Official complicity in human trafficking occurred at varying levels of government. The government did not report investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offences.”

The report has backed this argument, saying “there seems to be indifference on part of the law enforcing agencies towards viewing trafficking as a social menace rather than as hard-core crime and law and order problem. The priority that this work receives is in accordance with this perspective. Much confusion prevails when it comes to using relevant sections of the laws related to trafficking. The work of anti-trafficking and rescue is marked by tokenism and adhocism, often depending on media reports about sex-rackets, pressure from NGOs, judicial activism and the individual interest shown by some committed officers.”

Note: The Foundation for Independent Journalism, the not-for-profit company which publishes The Wire, was a co-sponsor of the event.