Three girls allegedly trafficked from North 24-Parganas district and forced into prostitution were rescued from an apartment in Patuli on the southern fringes of Kolkata on Tuesday, police said.
Two alleged traffickers were arrested, they said.
“Three minor girls have been rescued and two women arrested. One of them is a pimp and the other trafficked the girls,” said a senior officer in Lalbazar.
The raid is yet another pointer to the shifting of trafficking dens from traditional prostitution hubs to residential buildings, beauty parlours and similar places, said rights activists and cops.
Children are increasingly being exploited in “unsuspecting regular neighbourhoods” in urban areas and not in conventional red-light areas, they said.
The standalone apartment building from where the girls were rescued on Tuesday is a few minutes off EM Bypass.
“The raid happened around 3pm. Even the neighbours seemed to have no whiff of what was going on inside,” said a member of an NGO, which assisted the police in the operation.
Following a tip-off, sleuths of the anti-human trafficking unit of Lalbazar posed as decoy customers and caught the alleged traffickers red-handed, said police sources.
An FIR has been filed and several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 370 (trafficking), 372 (selling a minor for prostitution), 373 (buying a minor for prostitution) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act have been slapped on the two accused, the police said.
On Wednesday, a medical check-up was done and the girls were produced before the Child Welfare Committee before being taken to a shelter home.
On December 6, the same NGO had assisted the cops in another raid at a flat in Baranagar in north Kolkata.
Two girls had been rescued and three alleged traffickers arrested, said the representative of the NGO.
A child rights activist said finding a minor at a conventional brothel had become rare.
“Private apartments are the new brothels where you find minors. Often, these apartments are rented out by the original owners. They do not keep track of what is happening in them. The tenants also find these places suitable because the moment they sense trouble, they can leave,” said the activist.
The girls are usually lured, threatened or blackmailed and forced to continue in the trade.
“Usually, school dropouts are targeted because of their poor economic background. They are used as tools to lure other students or dropouts,” said the member of the NGO who helped cops in the Wednesday raid. School dropouts have increased in the pandemic.
An officer who has probed multiple trafficking cases said the traffickers dealing in minors use social media and their own network to get clients.
In November 2019, a police raid on a Behala apartment in southwest Kolkata blew the lid off an alleged trafficking racket, leading to the rescue of a 14-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman who had allegedly been forced into prostitution.
“This is something we have been fighting. We are conducting raids frequently. At times, we have found that minors are being exploited with the consent of their parents. Many of them are not aware of what they are doing and its consequences. After rescue, these children need proper counselling,” said Sudeshna Roy, chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights.