By Human Rights Society’s Asia-Pacific Ambassador, Stephanie-Mai Lowe, Nov. 11, 2014—
“The issue of child prostitution and other forms of trafficking in India has been widespread throughout a number of media outlets in the Asia-Pacific region this year. Examples in the news can be seen here, here, and here.
India has relatively relaxed laws on prostitution. While the exchange of sex for money remains legal (The Immoral Trade (Suppression) Act), organised activities, such as running brothels or acting as a pimp, are illegal.
Despite criminalization, brothels are extremely common in most of the country. The biggest regions for prostitutions include Sonagachi in Kolkata, G.B. Road in New Delhi, and Kamatipura in Mumbai. These areas contain hundreds of multi-story brothels, with approximately 11,000 prostitutes in Sonagachi alone.
Underage prostitution remains a great issue as well. It is believed that over one million prostitutes are underage; many of the girls have been trafficked internally from within India, or brought from regions such as Nepal. In fact, an Indian government report released earlier this year stated that around half a million children have been abducted and forced to work as prostitutes in India (source).
Other sources state that at least 67,000 children in India went missing just between 2013 and 2014, and that almost half of these were underage and forced into prostitution.
Indian authorities have a poor record of tracking down children who go missing. It is estimated that approximately one in every three children who goes missing becomes completely untraceable.
But what is it that makes children of this part of the world so vulnerable?
- Many of Indian victims of human trafficking come from very poor and marginalized communities within the country.
- India does not have a very precise/comprehensive legal structure that is able to deal with human trafficking and enforce applicable legislation.
- Indian authorities do little to link up child trafficking with cases of child labour, cases of abduction, or child marriages (despite the Indian act known as The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006).
India serves as a source, a transit, and a destination region for human trafficking. It serves as a source country in the sense that many Indians are trafficked both internally and across borders to work as prostitutes, or into forced labour — up to 12.66 million children used as forced labour (source). This has been seen especially within Middle Eastern nations such as the United Arab Emirates, in which there have been a number of reports of Indians who have been subject to slave-like conditions. They are drawn to the construction industry which is booming in the area, but then fail to receive pay, have their passports confiscated, and are told they must pay off the debt that has been accrued by their recruitment costs.
The issue of human trafficking in India is a multi-dimensional problem. There are a number of factors at play that makes it difficult for Westerners to understand the extent of the problem. This ranges from a history of colonialism (the British were involved in setting up trafficking rings), to severe inequalities between men and women, and severe poverty.
As a result, we should look into a number of measures rather than one clear-cut solution.
- We need to look into how we can help India develop into a more sustainable country, while fostering equality among its people, in hopes of reducing the disparities that have forced people to accept risky job opportunities or sell off their children.
- We need to provide advice and research on how to make legal institutions more effective and enforce legislation that prevents women, men, and children from being subject to the current shocking conditions.
- Furthermore, we need to use education to bring the population up overall and realise that such behaviours are not okay – that while we, as westerns, cannot press our culture upon others, slavery is not okay anywhere and universal human rights do exist. Education helps people to see and compare their culture to others, but what’s more is that it empowers individuals. It provides them with the tools that help them to avoid the sticky cycle of poverty that often exposes them to traffickers.
- We should also assist in providing employment. Children are treated as slaves in a number of ways in India in order to meet wWestern needs, whether it is weaving rugs for our living rooms, or sewing the $5 T-shirt we bought from the supermarket, and so on. We need to find ways of changing this by cutting off the demand that we’ve created.
I recently met a representative from the organisation FreeSet at a human trafficking conference in Otago, New Zealand. Freeset is a fair trade business that provides jobs to women who have managed to escape the sex trade. It trains them to sew, and in doing so, provides them with the skills and confidence they need for a safe and secure lease on life. Along with FreeSet, we believe dealing with the roots of the issues will strongly contribute towards the abolishment of the modern slave trade in the future of our world.”
About the author:
Steph-Mai is originally a British Citizen who moved to New Zealand at the age of 16. New Zealand is a country with a small population, recognised as one the least corrupt places in the world and possibly the best example for what human rights should look like on an international scale. Steph-Mai believes living in such a great country has given her the tools and ideas to try and help combat issues in less fortunate regions of the world. After completing her Bachelors Degree in Politics at the University of Otago (NZ) in 2013, she is currently finishing a Masters Degree in International Studies with a dissertation focusing on the link between human sex trafficking and the deployment of peacekeepers. Steph-Mai has travelled to a number of countries to further her knowledge in human rights, including Poland, which provided her with an opportunity to meet people researching the trafficking industry in Eastern Europe. She has helped raise awareness about human trafficking issues in New Zealand by helping to organise awareness events, creating the Human Trafficking in NZ website, and being cited in a number of national blogs. For more info on Steph-Mai: LinkedIn | info(at)humanrightssociety(dot)org.