A bunch of young girls, students of a school on the southern fringes of Kolkata, on Tuesday took part in a two-hour session that centred around the perils of trafficking.
A student of Class XI told the organisers of the session about a “close friend” getting married last year. “She has been almost unreachable since then. I was upset with her for not keeping contact. But now, I am worried about her,” the student said.
“The schools were shut for 20 months because of the pandemic. Even after the resumption of physical classes, not everyone is back. The dropout rate is not unrelated to the significant rise in child marriages,” said Kakali Das of Goranbose Gram Bikas Kendra (GGBK), a network of NGOs that works with trafficking survivors.
The GGBK and Childline collaborated with cops to organise the camp on Tuesday.
The camps, held under the banner of a campaign called Swayamsiddha, had started in 2016. But it was stalled in March last year because of the Covid pandemic.
On Tuesday, around 150 students of Harinavi DVAS High School in Sonarpur in South 24-Parganas, barely 25km from the heart of Kolkata, attended the camp.
At a hall in the school, they listened to the speakers and posed questions. Police officers from Baruipur, members of GGBK, Childline representatives and an advocate talked at length on trafficking.
The speakers cautioned the students about Facebook friends. Something as “innocuous” as a film date can lead to grave danger, they said. “A soft drink offered you can be spiked. When you open your eyes, you could be on your way to a trafficker’s den,” said Das.
Some girls spoke of being subjected to “harassment” regularly — like in autos and by local youths. “Telling people at home often does not work. They don’t pay heed to us,” said a girl.
A Childline representative told the students about the 1098 helpline.
The most engrossing part came when two trafficking survivors shared their account in front of the students. They were trafficked when they were minors.
“There is physical abuse. Then there is the mental torture and social stigma. I fell for the promise of a better life. But none of you should. Never get befriended by someone without checking their background,” said one of the survivors, who was taken to a brothel in Delhi.
Before being halted by the pandemic, the Swayamsiddha campaign had gained a lot of traction. “Several cases of child marriages could be prevented because a student informed us in the nick of time. Students were our informers. If a girl was long absent from school, her classmates checked on her,” said Priya Sen, an officer of Baruipur Women’s Police Station, who was part of the Tuesday camp.