Women emerge as primary victims in trafficking
October 28, 2007, Updated: Bangladesh Time 12:00 AM
Trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, is a heinous crime that violates all tenets of human rights and dignity-that is how the Indian Women and Child Development minister Renuka Chowdhury expressed her reaction while attending a South Asia regional conference in New Delhi recently. The three-day regional conference was organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with the government of India, where hundreds participants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka and India rubbed soldiers to discuss about the burning issue of trafficking.
The issue of human trafficking that is identified as a serious crime in the human society and a billion dollar global illicit trade came out for rigorous discussion in the conference. Various speakers in the conference reaffirmed their point of views terming human trafficking as a multi-faceted problem, often associated with illiteracy, poverty, lack of employment and also cultural practices.
The United Nations describes trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of a threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud for the purpose of exploitation. Trafficking is primarily done for sexual exploitation, but many times trafficked victims are used for forced labour, organ removal and marriage or adoption.
According to the UN understanding, human trafficking that involves the illicit and clandestine movements of persons across national borders is a booming illegal international trade (after arms and drugs trafficking), making an estimated USD 32 billion annually at the expense of millions of victims, who are victims of sexual exploitation and forced labour. It is also estimated that nearly 1,50,000 people, mostly young women and children are trafficked within South Asia annually with promises of a good job, a good marriage, or stardom in the entertainment industries.
“Human trafficking is world’s third largest profit-making illicit industry and the South Asia has emerged as the home to the second largest numbers of internationally trafficked persons (after Southeast Asia),” informed Gary Lewis, Representative (South Asia) of UNODC. South Asia is otherwise home to one-fifth of the world’s population and nearly 500 million people of the underdeveloped region live in poverty (surviving with less than a dollar a day).
The head of UNODC, Delhi office also acknowledged, “Poverty is the primary cause of trafficking in the region.” Revealing that India had emerged as the favoured destinations in South Asia, Mr Lewis informed that over 25,000 women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh annually to India. The share from Nepal is likely to be 15,000, who are brought illegally for the primary purpose of prostitution and slavery, he added.
Porous borders with economically poorer Bangladesh and Nepal (from where none need visa to visit India) aggravate the problem of cross-border trafficking. Bangladesh remained a source country for women and children for a quite a long time, traffickers target their preys in the poverty stricken rural areas.
On the other hand, Nepal is identified as a source country in the region. Fair looking Nepali young women are the primary victims of the trafficking, though new trend emerges with attraction for boys too. Unconfirmed statistics reveal that in average 12,000 Nepali women with minors are trafficked every year for sexual exploitation in outer countries. Most of the trafficked women from Nepal were later found infected with HIV/AIDS and also tuberculosis.
India with over a billion populations also remained a state of origin and transit country for trafficking in persons. It is estimated that that 90 per cent of India’s sex trafficking is internal, where States like Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and the Northeast contribute their shares. But often, women and children, trafficked from neighbouring countries, are sent to the Middle East, Gulf countries and even to the Europe. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have also lately joined in the circuit.
Addressing the conference, the minister Ms Chowdhury also argued that trafficking is by and large a gendered phenomenon. The trafficking in India is primarily for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. There are nearly three million sex workers in India and 40 per cent of them are children or adolescent girls. Statistics reveal that children below the age of 10 years are also found in the brothel of Indian cities like Mumbai and Delhi now a day, the minister disclosed.
“Many believe that having sex with young and virgin girls would cure them of diseases. It is nonsense,” Ms Chowdhury uttered. She emphasized on reducing the demand for prostitutes, engagement of children in workplaces, use of forced labour and empowering all collaborative efforts of governments, NGOs and other institutions to deal with the situation.
Ms Chowdhury also informed that New Delhi was formulating a joint action plan with Bangladesh and Nepal to combat the growing tendency of human trafficking in the region. “We are working for a joint effort (with Dhaka and Kathmandu) to formulate policies ensuring quick and safe return of the cross-border trafficked victims,” added the minister.
The ministry of Women and Child Development (in India) was actively engaged in organizing the conference on October 9,10,11 in New Delhi that brought together nearly 700 delegates representatives of government, civil societies, private sectors, film industries, media and partnering UN agencies. The regional conference under the global initiative to fight trafficking (UN.GIFT) concluded with a Delhi Declaration at Vigyan Bhawan highlighting the seriousness and magnitude of the crime with a series of focus areas to deal with the issue effectively.
The 19-point declaration, which was read out in presence of many high profile Indian ministers, Afghan deputy Labour minister Wasil Noor (Muhmand) with other dignitaries, resolved to ‘call upon all concerned including police, prosecutors and judiciary to undertake concerted action in law enforcement so that offenders are punished quickly, certainly and severely in a time bound manner’.
The declaration also urged upon the States to ratify the UN Transnational Organized Crime Convention and its supplementary protocols to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. While encouraging ‘all efforts towards evolving a synergistic approach in dealing with trafficking issue’, it also stressed on working ‘towards systemic training and capacity building of all stakeholders’.
The role of youths is recognized as change agents in the declaration with an aim to promote education of the girl child that would finally empower the women ‘to their full participation in economic life and decision making’. Identifying ‘inter-state and intra-state source, transit and destination routes for forced labour’ as a focus area in the declaration, where it was also emphasized on promoting the mode of safe migration.
One important point of the declaration includes building ‘a coalition of media partners and popular personalities to advocate for the prevention of trafficking. Mentionable that a good number of media persons and many Bollywood (Indian commercial film industry based in Mumbai) personalities including John Abraham, Amisha Patel, Kiran Kher, Mita Vashisht, Meghna Gulzar with Usha Utthup, Talat Aziz, AK Bir joined the conference and interacted with the vibrant audience that ended in stimulating debates.
Addressing the conference, where officials of UNFPA, UNDP, UNIFEM, UNICEF, ILO and several law officials participated, the Labour minister Oscar Fernandes described forced labour as a global menace that is prevalent in many countries. “Trafficking plays a major role in this exercise, which forces millions of people into the clutches of traffickers,” affirmed the minister.
Kiran Bedi (director general, Bureau of Police Research and Development) and Vijay Shankar (director, Central Bureau of Investigation), who were part of a panel discussion during the conference, emphasized on evolving a synergistic approach to all the efforts with an aim to combat the human trafficking effectively. Others who supported the move included David Arkless (corporate affairs officlal, Manpower Inc), Kailash Satyarthi (chairman, Global March against Child Labour) and Carmen Madrinan (executive director, ECPAT).
An UNODC official informed, around 10,000 human trafficking victims, mostly women and young girls, were rescued annually from traffickers in India. At the same time, thousands traffickers with customers were also arrested. “Corporate sector can make an invaluable contribution in curbing trafficking by creating livelihood opportunities and supporting organizations which prosecute traffickers and protect rescued victims,” Jeff Avina, director of operations with UNODC in Vienna argued while addressing the assembly that included participants from distinguished companies like Tata Steel, Microsoft, HSBC, Reliance Health etc.
The Indian Home (Interior) minister Shivraj Patil assured the gathering in the valedictory function that New Delhi would support all international efforts to fight against human trafficking in the region. While describing the problem as old, complicated and difficult to get resolved, the important minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet stressed on modification of existing laws and empowering law-enforcing machineries to efficiently deal with the trafficking issue. He concluded emphasizing on a comprehensive policy with national, regional and international perspectives to efficiently deal with the trafficking issue in the trouble torn South Asia.