Raise voice against human trafficking

The death of Phul Moni, a teenaged girl employed as a domestic help in the apartment of a Bengaluru couple, has blown the lid off the pernicious trade in children. It appears that the girl, who was from a remote village in Assam, was sold to an employment agency in Delhi, which in turn sold her to the Bengaluru couple. The police have said that the agency sold at least another 150 children to work as domestic helps in the city. The Bengaluru Police must act swiftly to rescue these children; else their employers will simply abandon them to avoid arrest and other police action. The plight of trafficked children who are sold to work as domestic helps has not received the attention it deserves because the police and the public often tend to view them as less exploited than children in the sex trade.  This is not true. Trafficked children working as domestic helps are often subjected to beatings and other forms of torture by their employers. They are made to work for long hours and are poorly fed and clothed. In addition to being taken away from her parents and family, Phul Moni suffered ill-treatment too. The police must act to punish the middlemen, the agency and the employers and take robust steps to ensure that other children do not suffer Phul Moni’s fate.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, cases reported increased by 25% in 2015 and 40% of these were children “bought, sold and exploited as modern day slaves.” Seventy-four percent of girl children procured for trafficking are from Assam and West Bengal and the two states account for 40% of all human trafficking cases. The figures represent just the tip of the iceberg as human trafficking is a trade that functions in the shadows.

Human trafficking is a hugely lucrative trade; worldwide it is worth $150 billion. It has benefited from the support and protection of powerful vested interests, including police and politicians, indeed even non-government organisations posing as adoption agencies. It is, therefore, a trade that is difficult but not impossible to tackle. Draft legislation to fight trafficking is in the pipeline. Political will to enact and implement it can make a difference. But importantly, the civil society needs to wake up from its slumber. We need to respond to the anguished cries of children like Phul Moni. She and millions of other trafficked children would be alive today had neighbours responded swiftly to their cries for help. It is our silence that provides protection to those who buy and sell human beings to exploit them.

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