Child trafficking in India: What the Deoria, Muzzafarpur and Yadagirigutta cases highlight about the problem
It is in encountering the individual stories of trauma that one begins to comprehend what survivors of trafficking go through.
This is the first in a three-part series on child trafficking in India.
- A 12-year-old girl runs away from a shelter home in Deoria, Uttar Pradesh. She tells the police of the other girls at the home being taken away in cars in the night and returning the next morning in tears. Her testimony helps uncover a years-long sex trafficking racket being run from the shelter home.
- A Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) audit of shelter homes in Bihar brings to light the sexual abuse of the inmates of a Muzzafarpur institute. The girls at the home have been subjected to brutal physical and sexual violence. The main accused in the case — Brajesh Thakur, who ran the shelter — is believed to have powerful local connections that helped him elude arrest for years.
- In Telangana, a child sex racket is discovered in the temple town of Yadagirigutta, when an anonymous caller tips off a child helpline about a bruised 10-year-old girl wailing on the doorstep of a house. The police find out that the child’s guardian had ‘bought’ her from an agent, and a crackdown on other houses in the same colony leads the cops to more cases of underage girls — some as young as five — being trafficked for sex work.
Last month, Union minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi introduced the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018 in Parliament. However, those who work in the field of women and child welfare have pointed out that the Bill is problematic: for one, its approach seems overly bureaucratic, and two, it’s heavily dependent on surveillance and enforcement through a nodal agency — a scary proposition given the track record of such agencies.
Many activists also wonder if there is a need to introduce new laws — leading to confusion —when most of the problems mentioned in the Bill are already addressed by existing laws under the Indian Penal code. The Bill itself has many grey areas. For instance, in cases where government officials themselves are complicit in trafficking, would not such a Bill aggravate the problem by putting more power into their hands?
There are no clear figures as to how many minors are trafficked in India. Due to the very nature of the crime, official figures — even when available — tell only part of the story. And while statistics may attest to the extent of the problem, it is in encountering the individual stories of trauma that one begins to comprehend what survivors of trafficking go through.
Take a look at the Deoria, Muzzafarpur and Yadagirigutta cases, and you’ll see a pattern of similarities:
The girls — mostly homeless, with no family to speak of, or runaways — were easy prey. They had no one to protect them.
Concerns had been raised about the two shelter homes and the Yadagirigutta housing colony from where the girls were rescued, previously. However, the trafficking had continued. In the Deoria case, the NGO that ran the home had had its licence revoked in 2007 after a CBI investigation flagged irregularities in its functioning. However, the home continued to operate after obtaining a stay order from the Allahabad High Court.
In Muzzafarpur, locals apparently heard the wails of the inmates who were being abused, but didn’t contact the authorities, fearing Brajesh Thakur. The TISS report named other Bihar homes as well where the inmates had been similarly brutalised. Excerpts from the report indicated that some of the minor girls had become pregnant as a result of the abuse, and given birth. Why the inspection teams that visited these shelters for years missed these signs is not clear.
The crackdown in Yadagirigutta revealed several horrifying details: How the girls — 15 of them, between the ages of seven and 12 were ultimately rescued — were given hormone injections to make them mature faster. How an entire interstate network targeted these girls — lost, snatched or lured away — who were then pushed into the flesh trade by their ‘guardians’. Once again, people in the area seemed to know what was going on but kept mum — some out of fear, and others because they were complicit.
A couple of years ago, a Bengaluru-based NGO traced some missing girls to Yadagirigutta and reunited them with their parents. Yet, the trade in little girls continued to thrive. A journalist covering the story was told by a local that Yadagirigutta drew many visitors — those who came to visit the Lord Narasimha temple on the nearby hilltop, and those who wished to ‘hire’ the girls.
In many cases of trafficking, someone known to the victim is involved — it could be a relative, family friend, or a neighbour. Investigators in the Yadagirigutta case found that some of the girls had been sold by their parents.
When one’s parents or immediate family turn into traffickers, children are left with little recourse.
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