Monday, November 3, 2014

Rescuing Victims of Trafficking

Earlier this week, a raid in Siliguri led to the rescue of girls from the region who had been enticed away from their homes and were on the verge of being played into the flesh trade. Elsewhere in this edition of the paper is a report on how the traffickers are using new tools and technologies to prey on the gullible. The same feature also speaks of one of the more earnest soldiers in the battle against human trafficking in the region, Charimaya Tamang, who is herself a survivor who was kidnapped while still a minor and who lived what must have been two horrific years of abuse before she was rescued. She faced the challenge of rehabilitation first hand, and her story, and the concern of agencies working in rehabilitation of trafficking survivors, brings to mind the plight of a Sikkim girl rescued some years ago from a Pune brothel. She was among three girls from the region rescued in Pune. While the families of the other two victims were contacted and the girls returned home almost immediately, contact could not be established with the family of the girl from Sikkim for a long while. She was too traumatised from her experience and understandably, in the absence of family, unwilling to return. She was kept under recuperation in a rehabilitation centre in Pune for the physical and psychological trauma suffered during her years as a victim of trafficking. Still more years ago, a Sessions Court in Mumbai convicted four people involved in the trafficking of two girls from rural East Sikkim. The girls, the Court order had recorded, were enticed away from home and then forced into prostitution in Mumbai; one of them was not even 16. This was an important and rare victory for everyone involved in initiatives to protect girls and women from the trauma - physical and psychological - of being consumed by the lurid flesh trade. More than ‘justice’ for the victims, such convictions serve as deterrents for others planning to prey on the underprivileged. The judgments also serve as lessons, as evidence that the horror stories one associates with movies and works of fiction are very real. They also hold up the mirror to the society at large for having failed to keep the vulnerable away from harm. And while on the question of justice, it is unlikely that punishing the perpetrators will heal the victims... And they need healing. Every effort needs to be made to help victims get over the trauma they have suffered. And that is where the battle is almost always lost.
Victims of trafficking are invariably from the underprivileged section of the society. Whether they are enticed away by promises of ‘good, well-paying jobs’, blatantly ‘purchased’ to be sold into sexual slavery, or stolen away with promises of marriage [as happens often in the net cast by the predators on social networking sites], it is their destitution that sets them up as prey. The privation that makes victims out of them, need not always be economic poverty, it can also be a poverty of opportunities or the violence of denial; social conditions that make the victims take risks (by responding to obviously impossible offers), and even make their families ignore the obvious risks of sending them away. The warped sense of priorities of a disinterested society and the still prevalent gender discrimination puts the girl child and women in harm’s way. To keep them safe in Sikkim will require a complete overhaul of the structures erected to work for the womenfolk here and the process has been initiated by the State Government through measures like handing over all aid and benefits to the lady of the house, but meaningful empowerment will require the society and its organisations to take the process forward by abandoning their elitist and male-centric responses to social conditions. The societal indifference manifested in its refusal to even accept that trafficking is prevalent in Sikkim reflects an elitist disconnect from ground realities and male chauvinism that believes it can ignore the issue and no one will notice. Though girls and women continue to be taken away and some even rescued from time to time, even agencies claiming to work for and among women, see these instances as aberrations. They perhaps believe that accepting that trafficking is prevalent will embarrass the State. Of course it will, but ignoring it or seeing the instances proving otherwise as aberrations means not doing enough to protect and save the victims and that will not only embarrass, but also damn everyone. Sikkim still does not have a codified process to rehabilitate rescued victims of trafficking. It is wrong to believe that pulling them out of a brothel or other abusive environments is rescuing them. Victims of trafficking go through acute physical and psychological trauma; a change of address is not enough. They have to undergo proper and extensive counselling, before they can have a shot of leading normal lives. Many rescued victims have been known to return to prostitution and/ or become alcoholics. This is not a reflection on their ‘character’, as many paint it to be, but a manifestation of the societal disinterest in their condition which fails to comfort and rehabilitate them. Professional counselling for victims of trafficking or other forms of sexual violence is still not the norm. This is unfortunate, because this succour should be reaching them even before police or legal assistance. It is an accepted fact that victims of sexual violence develop a guilt-perception, believing that they, in some way, ‘invited’ the abuse they suffered. Only professional counselling can help them overcome that trauma. When it comes to victims of trafficking, their rehabilitation demands that they receive, apart from psychological counselling, state support to acquire employable skills and then receive the financial assistance to become economically independent. Deny them these, and they remain defenceless, and in the process at risk of becoming victims again. Conviction of their tormentors by the Courts is important because it helps convincing them that they were victims, but to ensure that their trauma does not debilitate their futures, the society that exposed them to the trauma that visited them, needs to put in place a codified process that provides them psychological and medical counselling, effective legal aid, sensitive rehabilitation that equips them for a gainful self-employment and financial support by way of grants a loans which make it possible for them to strike out on their own. Do all this, and we would have only started the process of keeping them and the future generations safe. Don’t do it, and continue receiving news that rescued victims are unwilling to return...

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