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Child traffickers catch them younger

Mumbai, Dec. 27: It is difficult to recognise Maya in the daylight — the heavily made-up, tough-talking woman, gyrating under psychedelic lights in a Dahisar bar, turns out to be a ponytailed girl of 18.

Maya, who lives with her mother and three sisters, anticipates the surprise.

“Don’t go by my age, I have been in this profession for three years now and the way it is going I have another three to go,” she says, while serving a cup of tea that’s more sugar than leaf.

Little is getting big in the burgeoning sex industry of Mumbai and Goa. Social activists campaigning against child trafficking say children, sometimes as young as 10, are inducted by touts — often even by their own parents. Many of them “retire” at 20 to start their own business of procuring children for the sex trade.

Social workers feel this is an alarming new trend in urban India.

Prerana, an NGO working on the problem of boys and girls being forced into prostitution, maintains that the percentage of minors in human trafficking is rising steadily each year.

“Sex tourism in Mumbai, Goa and adjoining coastal areas has become an enormous industry,” says Pravin Patkar, founder member of Prerana.

“But what is more terrifying is the fact that nowadays girls, not even 10 years old, are being inducted into the business,” Patkar says.

“The number of minors being forcibly thrown into the sex trade is showing a steep hike every year.”

Maya nods her head in resigned agreement. “I was 15 when I was brought to Mumbai from Agra,” she says. “Those were frightful days, but now its fine.”

Maya and three of her friends, one of them as young as 12, were promised jobs as attendants in “respectable restaurants of Mumbai” by a tout in Agra.

However, life had something more drastic in store on their arrival in Mumbai.

“Madam kept us in a room for four days. There were a lot of phone calls and bargaining in the house after that,” Maya recalls, adding after a poignant silence, “aur phir boli lagi (and then we were auctioned)”.

Maya, the prettiest of the four, fetched a price of Rs 1,00,000, while her friend, Rekha, was sold for Rs 80,000.

“These kids, mostly from Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar and Nepal, plunge into the sex trade in a very systematic, well organised manner. Scouts branch out everywhere with precise instructions that the kids should not be above 14 or 15,” says Vivek Matondkar, a social activist.

“You will find these scouts all over, in Amethi and Agra, in Bareily and Bulandshahr. While the better looking ones get work as dancers, others end up in the red light districts,” Matondkar adds.

NGOs say the law seems both inadequate and incapable to deal with child prostitution.

The law must first ensure that the victimisers and not the victims are punished, said former Supreme Court judge Sujata Manohar.

“It is the traffickers, the pimps and sometimes the family members of girls who push them into prostitution who have to be punished,” Manohar said at a recent seminar.

“It is heart-rending to see 14-year-olds delivering children when they should themselves be playing,” says Patkar.

Maya, however, offers an explanation. “Look, there is no work anywhere and the men can do nothing about it,” she says.

“Now there is so much competition in this trade that age has become a very big factor, the younger the better. Mein to senior ho gayi abhi.”

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