The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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On sale, for a few rupees more

She was sold by her family for a few hundred rupees and brought to Calcutta from Delhi, under the pretext of getting her “a better job”. When they tried to sell her in a marketplace of a red-light area, she raised an alarm. The crooks were netted, and she was saved. Her father was sent for, who then took her back home. But in a few months, she could well be back on the block.

“At least she went back home,” says Manabendra Mandal of the Socio Legal Aid Research and Training Centre (SLARTC).

“Most of them don’t. I have seen cases where they either spend their lives in prostitution and are unable to get out of it, or they end up in a home and stay there. Like a girl who went to Liluah home at 13, and she is now 40. Sometimes, they beg not to be sent home, because they know they’ll be sold off again.”

In a survey on child trafficking, commissioned by Save the Children UK, West Bengal chapter, and conducted by SLARTC, it was found that not only is the menace on the rise, but the age is also decreasing, to as low as 12. The reasons for procurement range from prostitution, fake marriages and abuse to organ transplantation.

“The problem is, the system isn’t ready to accept it yet,” explains Mandal. “These children are young, below the poverty line, illiterate, usually from the districts, and the treatment they get from the police and even the magistrates, if they are rescued, is not very sensitive. So, the victims get even more depressed. Sometimes, the machinery doesn’t work properly, like being produced in court on time, and sometimes the girls are afraid to give all their details out of guilt or fear of ostracism in their community, and so tracing their family becomes difficult.”

Workshops with lawyers, social workers, police officers, judges and magistrates have helped to make them more aware of the problems related to child trafficking, but the consequences are not far-reaching enough, says Mandal.

The counsellors of SLARTC who work with the inmates of the Liluah home stress that the girls are often so emotionally disturbed that they have a hard time even talking about what they are going through. Their shame and embarrassment are multiplied by the treatment at the hands of the system.

“The thing with children is that they don’t know the law or their rights,” says Asha Iyer of Save the Children UK.

“The laws in this country are fantastic, but the loopholes come into play during implementation. The criminals involved in the racket know the laws, but children are very easily hidden and made invisible, for example, during a raid. The main problem is that the children most often have no idea of what they are getting into when they leave home, and have no say in what happens to them.”

Another fact that emerged in the survey is that a lot of these children are abused at home, sexually and physically. Sometimes, they are sold off into the sex industry by their own family, knowingly or unknowingly, or brought to the city in search of a better job, usually as a domestic help, or to get married. Whatever the reason, the cycle of violence is unending. Even if they return home, it is back to a life of drudgery with no guarantee of security.

Calcutta is a hub of activity in child trafficking, because of its strategic geographical positioning and proximity to several international borders, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Money and ‘goods’ exchange hands here and are then distributed to various locations, national and international. Women and children from West Bengal are also taken to Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

“Much more needs to be done to control child trafficking,” says Mandal, from his Lake Terrace centre.

Not the least of which is creating awareness through education, particularly among the victims, concludes Iyer.

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