Monday, November 3, 2014

Traffickers move online to prey, victims still await meaningful rehabilitation

There has been a noticeable change in human trafficking trends and methods when it comes to the activities of pimps and their supply of the flesh trade. Indo-Nepal cross-border trafficking is on a decline, supplemented instead by a steady increase in trafficking from the North East Region and from Darjeeling. Traffickers are also using technology and preying on the gullibility of first-time users of apps and services which have now inundated these parts as mobile phones get cheaper, their features more advanced with no noticeable improvements in the understanding of people here on the nefarious abuse of technology by the criminally inclined.
“The trend is changing. Traffickers are making use of technology including online social sites to lure the girls. Dingy brothels are now being replaced by highend hotels, lodges, massage parlours and discos. A recent study by us has revealed that though Indo-Nepal cross border trafficking is on the decline, the demand for women with Mongoloid features with fair complexion has increased and is being serviced with more rampant trafficking from the Darjeeling Hills and North East Region. They are being passed off as girls from Thailand in massage parlors in places like Goa,” claimed Arun Pandey of Anyay Rahit Zindagi [ARZ], a Goa-based NGO working on rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked victims.
Mr. Pandey remarked that the biggest challenge faced by victims from Darjeeling following their rescue is rehabilitation.
“There have been incidents in which girls from Darjeeling have been rescued from massage parlors in Goa where they were being sexually exploited. Following the rescue, the challenge we face is rehabilitation. Though there is a rehabilitation programme of the Government of Goa, the victims prefer to return. However there is no rehabilitation home in Darjeeling and there is no rehabilitation scheme of the West Bengal Government for trafficked victims,” details Mr. Pandey.
“As per a Supreme Court ruling, the State Government has to compensate victims of trafficking, acid attack and rape. However I am not aware of any such compensation by the West Bengal Government to rescued victims,” he adds.
The girls are usually lured to the massage parlours with promises of lavish salaries. Once they start working in the parlours, they are forced into the sex trade. Mr. Pandey further states that an amendment of Section 370 of the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act criminalises anyone who recruits, transports, harbours, transfers or receives a person using certain means (including threats, force, coercion, fraud, deception, abduction, abuse of power, or inducement) for purposes of exploitation.
“Owing to this it is a crime to buy sex and customers can be arrested. In recent years the Government has strated sealing brothels and massage parlors where such crime has been committed,” added Mr. Pandey.
Traffickers are now recruiting local women to work as Managers from the source location. The job of the “manager” is to lure girls for which they get good money. “In order to stop this, criminal cases have to be initiated and perpetrators need to be booked from the source point to send a strong message to the predators,” stresses Mr. Pandey.
Meanwhile, guarding the open border with Nepal against traffickers presents another challenge.
“The open border is a boon for both Indians and Nepalese. However, the security agencies have to remain highly vigilant against traffickers. Those who commit crime taking advantage of this great facility (open border) should be punished. There should be stringent legislation against border crimes specially relating to trafficking,” insists Charimaya Tamang of Shakti Samuha, an NGO from Nepal.
Ms. Tamang, herself a victim of trafficking, started the Shakti Samuha in 1996 along with 14 others like her who had been rescued from the brothels of Mumbai. While Ms. Tamang is a recipient of “Hero Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery Award 2011” of the USA, Shakti Samuha was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2013 for its contribution to rooting out human trafficking and improving the lives of trafficking survivors. 
Ms. Tamang feels that more emphasis should be given to “prevention” than “rescue”. She appealed to Government departments, NGOs and Society to work in close coordination to prevent trafficking along with need for protection of rights and privacy of the rescued. She further appealed to society and family members of victims to be more receptive to their rehabilitation.
Charimaya was trafficked when she was barely 16. In 1994, she was abducted from the Shivapur jungles near her village in Sindupal Chowk of Nepal when she had gone to collect fodder. From there she was taken to Gorakhpur and then landed up in a brothel in Mumbai.

On 05 February 1996, the Government launched a first-ever major raid in the red light district of Kamathipura, Mumbai. 500 girls below the age of 18 were rescued. They were from India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Out of the 500, more than 200 girls were from Nepal. With the Nepal Government reluctant to facilitate their return, NGOs and Human Rights organizations of Nepal facilitated the return of the victims. Finally after six months in halfway homes, 128 trafficked victims, including Ms. Tamang, returned to Nepal.

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