None should go through what we did: Trafficking victims

None should go through what we did: Trafficking victims

Activists say even a small hint from the public could play a very big role in busting human trafficking rackets, appealing to people to stay alert and report if they see anything unusual. File photo for representation.

A mother at just 17, Seema* went back to her village in Jharkhand with her two-month-old baby last week, five years after she had been sold to a family in Gurgaon where she was raped by a co-domestic worker.

As another World Day Against Trafficking in Persons comes around on Monday, Seema’s life story is a stark reminder of the millions of people who are trafficked each year, sold into prostitution, forced labour or domestic work, either forcefully or on the pretext of a better life.

Activists say even a small hint from the public could play a very big role in busting human trafficking rackets, appealing to people to stay alert and report if they see anything unusual.

Trafficking victims like Seema are often hiding in plain sight, working in upscale homes but overlooked by all those who visit them.

Her sexual assault last year was preceded by years of servitude in the corporate suburb of Gurgaon with 19-hour workdays and barely enough food for the young girl who once dreamt of becoming a painter.

“Working hours were from 4 am to 11 pm every day and I was made to do all household chores. I was the same age as the children in the family. While they would be preparing for their exams, I would be scrubbing floors,” Seema told PTI.

She was given food left over in the plates of her employers. If the plates were empty, she would sleep hungry. She found her peace in painting on newspapers but her world was shattered again when she was raped by another domestic worker.

“I did not understand what was happening to me when my stomach started bloating. My employers took me to a doctor who said I was pregnant. They tried to get the child aborted but it was too late,” Seema said.

Seema gave birth to a baby girl in May this year and has been in a severe depression since then.

A case has been registered against the accused but Seema’s life will never be the same again, said anti-trafficking activist Ashok Rawat.

“All I want is that no other person goes through the trauma I did," said Seema.

But that is a wish that is not about to be fulfilled anytime soon.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), almost 20,000 women and children were victims of human trafficking in India in 2016, a rise of nearly 25 per cent compared to 2015.

Srimoyee* is two years older than Seema but her story of exploitation and servitude is the same.

Tired of being a farm worker in her village in West Bengal’s Asansol disrict, she wanted to become a model but got trapped in the trafficking ring and was forced to become a sex worker in Delhi. She was rescued during a raid but says she is too ashamed to return home.

“I can’t face my family and have nothing to look forward to. I am looking for alternative means of livelihood but without proper education there is nothing really that I can do,” she said.

The stories are many, including not just girl children and young women but also young boys.

Twins Satram* and Raveesh* left their homes in Siliguri to escape their abusive father when they were just eight. They made their way to Delhi and started living at the Delhi railway station, eking out a living reselling used mineral water bottles.

Then, eight months ago, Raveesh came into contact with a trafficker and has been missing since then.

Satram, 14, said he has been looking frantically for him but to no avail.

Seema, Srimoyee and Raveesh are the tragedies unfolding behind the numbers.

“Such people face so much discrimination at home that they think life in cities would be better but once they come to cities they are caught in the vicious circle of trafficking,” Rawat rued.

Statistics from the Ministry of Women and Child Development state that 19,223 women and children were trafficked in 2016 against 15,448 in 2015, with the highest number of victims being recorded in West Bengal.

In a bid to make stricter laws against trafficking, the Lok Sabha last week passed an anti-trafficking bill.

Said to be India's first comprehensive anti-trafficking bill, it seeks to deal with the crime from the point of prevention, protection and rehabilitation.

Besides taking up prevention, rescue and rehabilitation, it covers aggravated forms of trafficking such as forced labour, begging and marriage.

P M Nair, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said the bill brings in accountability.

“So far, a duty was cast upon police to rescue and there was no accountability on agencies of the government concerned with rehabilitation. By endorsing the new provision of bringing in accountability of the government agencies concerned on matters of rehabilitation, it is not only the victim who will benefit … the entire justice delivery process stands to gain,” Nair said.

Rekha Sharma, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women, has said people can play a very important role in rescuing trafficking victims.

She advised people to keep their eyes open. Often, it gets very difficult to identify victims who many a time are walking among us but are not able to ask for help.

In 2013, UN member states adopted a resolution designating July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights”. 

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