TRAFFICKING OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Trafficking of women and children is one of the worst violations of human rights. It is a matter of great shame that even after half a century since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the international community, trafficking continues to thrive. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that global trafficking industry generates upto eight billions of U.S. dollars each year from what may be described as 'trade in human misery*.
There are many forms of trafficking. But the most visible and widespread is the trafficking of women and children for commercial exploitation. This kind of exploitation of women and children is not a new phenomenon. Its origin goes to the history and traditions of many countries. However, the problem has now been exacerbated by globalisation and its linkage with lucrative tourist and sex industries. Though it is a global phenomenon, the problem has assumed alarming dimensions in different countries of Asia, and particularly South Asia.
At present, there is no single clear-cut definition of trafficking. The term is used to describe activities that range from voluntary migration to the movements of persons through force, or violence for exploitative purposes. The 'U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women'-Radhika Coomaraswamy has correctly pointed out that at the core of any definition of trafficking, must be recognition of the fact that trafficking is never consensual. It is this non-consensual nature of trafficking that distinguishes it from other forms of migrations. Thus, all kinds of illegal migration are not trafficking and the basic distinction between the two is the question of consent.
Today, South Asia has emerged alongside South-East Asia as a major centre for intra and international trafficking of women and children. Trafficking of women is done primarily for the purposes of prostitution, but also for use as bonded labourers, beggars and smugglers. Major international flows include trafficking of girls from Nepal and Bangladesh to India and from Bangladesh and Burma to Pakistan and from Pakistan and India to the Middle East. Further, trafficking of young boys from India and Pakistan to the Middle East for use as camel-jockies has also assumed alarming proportions. Though there is dearth of hard accurate data, the fact remains that this volume of trafficking of women and children in India is disproportionate high.
Trafficked women and children are used for varieties of purposes like prostitution, domestic work, camel jockies. illegal adoption of children, organ transplant, begging, drug-trafficking, forced marriages and various other exploitative forms of work. Both demand and supply factors ruthlessly drive the trafficking industry. Some key push factors are inadequate employment opportunities, lack of social safety net, globalisation, relaxed control and open border facilitating movement of population. Other important contributing factors are-erosion of traditional family system as well as values, the pursuit of consumerism and traditional practices in some communities like dedicating girls to gods and goddesses. Further, social acceptance of prostitution in some communities encourages the clandestine trade.
Nepal today is the largest identifiable source of child prostitutes to Indian brothels. UN1CEF Review indicates that from five thousand to seven thousand girls are trafficked to India every year. The UNICEF survey mentioned that Nepali girls and young virgins sell for atleast six thousand rupees each in Indian brothels on their first nights. Virgins are prized because of the prevalent myth that sleeping with the virgins will cure sexually transmitted diseases. Fear of AIDS also has raised the demand for the virgins. Traffickers manipulate Nepal's poor economic condition to their advantage. Families from poor communities in Nepal, who are in dire economic straits, becomes easy victims of the traffickers who offer them either job or proposals for marriage. Bombay has the largest number of Nepalese girls in prostitution. According to one estimate, there are about 20,000 Nepali women in the city's flesh trade. Many of them hail from remote hilly villages and poor communities of Nepal. They were brought by the local recruiters and then sold off to the brokers, who delivered them to the brothel owners in India. Out of them, 60 per cent contract HIV. Because Nepali women and girls in brothels are trapped in virtual slavery, they are unable to negotiate any aspect of the situation. Information on AIDS is admittedly of limited practical use. Nevertheless, it is one of their only remaining lines of defence against contracting and transmitting AIDS virus. AIDS education for Nepali women will help them to assert some control over their lives by informing their decisions about marriage and children if they return to their home villages. According to another survey done by Dasgupta, Bangladeshi girls and women constitule almost 11 per cent of the total number of prostitutes in Calcutta. Difficult economic condition in Bangladesh and oppression and torture of the girls by their husbands are some of the causative factors. Many of the prostitutes of the brothels in Calcutta are poor Muslim girls who have been picked up by the traffickers by promising marriage and employment. Some of them with children have been abandoned by their husbands and in desperate need to support their children are left with no alternatives but to enter the profession.
In a study of the sexual exploitation of the Nepalese girls, Durga Ghemiri, a well-known social worker of Nepal, points out that young girls are often deceived by pimps or middle persons who offer them jobs in urban areas. There are also a large number of step-mothers and step-fathers, who sell their girls to the brothel owners. There are many professional husbands as well who marry the girls and sell them to the brothel owners. Last year, she was able to recover 124 minor girls working as prostitutes in Bombay. The girls in sex industries face intimidation, rape and torture from the pimps, clients, brothel owners and even the law-enforcement agents. There is very often coercion and physical abuse.
Constitutional and Legal Aspects
Article 23 of Part III of the Indian Constitution related to fundamental rights under the caption 'Rights Against Exploitation" prohibits trafficking of the human beings and provides that any contravention of this right shall be an offence punishable by law. The Directive Principles of State Policy under Part IV of the Constitution in Article 39 (e) and (k) declare that state policies should be directed towards securing that the "childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and material abandonment."
Building on the constitutional principles the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act was enacted in 1956. The Act was amended in 1986 and ratified as the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act. The amended Act continues to prohibit prostitution in its commercialised form without making prostitution per se an offence. The Act prescribes stringent action against those procuring children for the purpose of prostitution. If the offence is committed against a child, the punishment is rigorous imprisonment for a term not less than seven years. Regrettably, enforcement of the Act by the State governments has been extremely poor. Cases of clandestine inter-State and cross- border trafficking in women and girls are seldom thoroughly investigated. Consequently, the basic structure of the cruel and exploitative system remains intact and continues to flourish. Section 13 (4) of the Act empowers the central government to appoint trafficking police officers with nation-wide jurisdiction for the investigation of cases of inter-State trafficking in women. No step has so far been taken by the government in this regard to appoint 'Trafficking Police Officers'. A central investigation agency, notably the Central Bureau of Investigation, should be directed by the government to perform the functions of 'trafficking officer's' as envisaged under the provisions of the Act.
Again, under Section 13 of the Act the State governments are to appoint special police officers who should be assisted by an advisory body comprising leading social welfare workers of the area. This, if done, will create a mechanism at the field level to initiate and sustain appropriate action. Indeed, effective implementation of the provisions of the IPTA needs far greater police vigilance. It is the police collusion which often enables the pimps and traffickers to operate without fear and get away scot-free. Moreover, cross-border trade in women and children is not possible without the connivance of the police and the personnel of the Border Security Force.
There is also need for regional co-operation for combating effectively this menace of trafficking in women and children. Recently (22nd October, 2000), a regional workshop of senior police officers to enhance cross-border collaboration to stop human trafficking was held in Kathmandu. A body of professionals called 'South Asia Professionals Against Human Trafficking" (SAPAHT) was constituted to fight trafficking of women and children and enhance cross-border collaboration and information exchange.
There are major international standards which provide a framework within which the countries can address the issue of trafficking. These are :
(1) The United Nations Conventions for the suppression of
the traffic in persons and of the exploitation of the
prostitution of others 1949. The convention has been
ratified by 71 countries (1997), but has not attracted
(2) The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of
Discrimination against women (CEDAW) 1979. CEDAW
obliges states to enact states legislation to suppress all
forms of traffic in women. The convention has been
ratified by 155 countries (1997).
(3) The United Nations Convention on the rights of the child
(CRC) 1989. It has near universal ratification and 189
states are parties to it. Articles 33, 34, 35 and 39 of the
convention prohibit trafficking in children.
Though most of the countries of South Asia are signatories to different international conventions and national legislation too has been enacted, implementation remains very weak. Trafficked women and children are extremely vulnerable to the abuses of the legal system. In India about 4 times as many women than men in the sex trade are arrested. Procurers, guardians, pimps and clients are barely touched. Further, the stigma associated with HIV / AIDS has undermined attempts both to repatriate trafficked women as well as to rehabilitate them. Though trafficking is undertaken on a large organised scale involving regional gangs with links to law enforcement agencies, there is no proper regional mechanism to ensure co-operation and co-ordinated action. In the SAARC Summit in Male September 2000, the member-countries agreed to work together to eliminate trafficking. Unfortunately, ratification of the proposed SAARC convention on trafficking and sexual exploitation in women and children adopted at the ministerial meeting in Colombo in July 1998 has been stalled due to the postponement of 1999 SAARC summit.
To combat trafficking in persons, specially "in sex trade, slavery and non-voluntary servitude, the American Congress has now passed an Act known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000". The Act prescribes minimum standards for elimination of trafficking. The Act lays down that USA will not provide non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign assistance to any government that does not comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with such standards.