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Teen rescue from flat signals shift

A team of cops raided a ground-floor flat in a 3-storey apartment in Behala on Friday evening and rescued the teenager

Our Special Correspondent   |   Calcutta   |   Published 04.11.19, 09:01 PM

A police swoop on a Behala apartment last week 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.

The raid is a pointer to the shifting of trafficking dens from traditional prostitution hubs to residential buildings, beauty parlours and similar places, said activists.

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Acting on a tip-off, a team of cops raided a ground-floor flat in a three-storey building in Behala Bakultala on Friday evening and rescued the teenager.

A man and a woman — Arpita Majumder, 32, and Somnath Das, 38 — were arrested for allegedly trafficking the girl. Ruksana Bibi, 34, who is said to have rented the apartment was arrested, too.

The minor, a resident of Batanagar, on the southern fringes, is said to have told the rescuers that she had been “working” for the alleged traffickers for two months to help sustain her family.

The girl has read till Class VII and lives with her mother and two younger siblings. Her mother works as an ayah. Her father, a driver, rarely comes home and whenever he does, abuses her mother, the girl is said to have told the police and counsellors.

A report released two years ago by the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the International Justice Mission, an NGO, said minor girls were being trafficked in large numbers and forced into prostitution in houses, massage parlours and hotels in the city as well as in the districts.

The NGO is counselling the teenager at its shelter.

According to the girl, she had come in contact with Majumder and Das recently. They allegedly lured her with the promise of a job. She was allegedly assaulted by multiple men on the first couple of days.

“She was taken to multiple places, where she was exploited. Ruksana Bibi rented a flat for the same purpose,” said an officer in Lalbazar’s anti-trafficking unit.

The three-storied building from where the teenager and the woman were rescued stands in a leafy bylane off Biren Roy Road (West), one of the busy roads in Behala connected to DH Road. Neighbours said they had no clue what was going on there. “Most of the time the flat used to be bolted from inside,” said a resident of an apartment on the second floor.

“The perpetuating private networks with covert modus operandi is evidence of the growing demand for commercial sexual exploitation of children. The sex trafficking of minors is shifting from location-based prostitution to private residences,” said Saji Philip, director of operations of the Calcutta wing of the International Justice Mission.

The three arrested were produced in Alipore court and remanded in 14 days’ police custody.

They have been charged under the Indian Penal Code sections related to procurement and trafficking a minor into prostitution, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

“The girl is being counselled. It is possible that the perpetrators had planned to send her to another state and the house she was rescued from was a transit point. We are probing all angles,” said Murlidhar Sharma, joint commissioner of police, crime.

According to the 2017 report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Bengal recorded 357 trafficking cases, the second highest in India after Jharkhand. The NCRB report of 2016 had said that human trafficking was highest in Bengal — 3,579.

Some activists and NGOs have attributed the sharp drop to the absence of Section 370 (trafficking charge) in the cases prepared by the police. “Several cases filed by victims who are rescued from other states are drawn up with kidnapping and other charges but trafficking charges are not pressed,” said a member of an NGO that works for rehabilitation of trafficking survivors.



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