The body parts of Soni Kumari, a 16-year-old girl from Ranchi, were recovered from a bag in Delhi, earlier this month. The minor was allegedly murdered by a placement agent who helped her get employed as a domestic help at a Delhi residence.
Every year thousands of people from several villages in Jharkhand are forced to migrate out of their houses in search of employment, a large number of them fall prey to a vicious circle of traffickers, who lure them with promises of a better life with more work opportunities; most of them, who are sent to the NCR region, end up getting physically and sexually abused and in worst case scenarios killed.
A few days after Kumari’s death, a 17-year-old girl from Ranchi was rescued after being locked up in a room and repeatedly gang-raped, allegedly by placement agents after she demanded her wages from them.
In January, this year, another 17-year-old girl from Godda district in Jharkhand was rescued by Faridabad police after being physically abused at a household in Delhi.
According to social activists, most girls trafficked to Delhi are never given wages and are often beaten up or sexually abused. For example in 2014, the Vasantkunj maid case made national headlines when a girl from Jharkhand’s Sahibgunj district was rescued from a household in the locality with bruises all over her body and maggots growing out of her wounds.
"I was beaten up on the slightest mistakes and my wounds were never treated. I thought I would never be able to escape that place and probably end up dying there. I am glad I was able to make it back home. I was not paid a single penny for the work that I did for one and a half years there," the Vasantkunj victim said.
Migration a necessity
But for several residents in Jharkhand, migrating out for work is a choice they have little control over. Soni Kumari’s mother Parban Oraon said, "She had gone to work in a brick kiln earlier and had returned with Rs 2,000. This time when she went missing, we thought she might have gone out again to earn money."
In Soni Kumari’s village Malgo, situated around 60 kilometres from state capital Ranchi, several other children remain missing for years.
"Not just girls but even boys are missing from the village for as long as 10 years now. I know at least 10 such cases. They were lured away with promises of a better lifestyle and a lot of money at the tender age between 12 and 15; they never returned," said Basanti Devi, an Anganwadi sevika in the village.
"Many people came forward and said their children have been missing for years and requested help in finding them. However, there was one case when one of the missing children returned after 11 years after working as a domestic help in Haryana," said Arti Kujur, chairperson of the Jharkhand State Commission for Child Rights Protection (JSCPCR).
Years of negligence of the tribal belt in the state has led to a forced migration of girls to Delhi. With most of the families in rural Jharkhand, being poverty stricken with not enough money to even arrange a day’s meal, sending their children out for work seems to be the easiest option available.
The Jharkhand Economic Survey 2015-16 highlights this poor employment scenario in the state. Where the unemployment rate in Jharkhand was above the national average of 2.7 percent at 3.1 percent, its labour force participation rate was 5 percent less than the national average at 31.4 percent.
Gemini Munda (name changed) whose daughter was trafficked twice and returned home with a huge burn on her back, said, "I have six children and feeding all of them is not easy. I will send my daughter to work again if I see a good opportunity. At least it will be one mouth less to feed and if she earns well she would be able to send some money home."
While National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records show that 155 people were trafficked from Jharkhand, including 90 minors, in 2016, real estimates would be much higher.
Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, a social organisation working against human trafficking, said the recorded number of trafficking cases is less than the actual number because of police not registering most cases under IPC sections 370 and 370A (Trafficking).
"As employment in non-hazardous work is legal for children above the age of 14, many a time, police do not impose section 370 in such cases. As a result, the official data of trafficking is very less," he said.
Agreeing with Kant, Baidnath Kumar, a Jharkhand based social activist said that most trafficking cases are not being registered at police stations. "Data of one of the NGOs show that over 30,000 girls in the state are trafficked every year. I myself have rescued over 500 girls," he said. Baidnath was talking aboutChildhood in Fire, a report published by the Jharkhand chapter of Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC) and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh shows that at an average 42,000 girls from Jharkhand were being trafficked every year.
"We had conducted a study from 2005 to 2007 on the situation of human trafficking in Jharkhand and published the report in 2010. Apart from this, there is no other concrete data either with the government or the NGOs," said Sanjay Mishra, state head of ATSEC.
According to Baidnath Kumar, family members of victims often decide against approaching the police as they fear harassment by authorities. "The villages are located at far away spots from the police station. If a villager goes to the police station once, he will have to face a number of enquiries and will be called to the police station every other day for attendance," said Kumar.
Rishi Kant said that over the years his NGO has rescued hundreds of girls of Jharkhand who were never paid. "Their wages are collected by the placement agents and the girls are told that the money is being sent to their home but at the end, neither they nor their families receive the money," he said.
Kant added, "The girls are treated as slaves in the households they are employed and have to face atrocities on a daily basis. Also, before being employed, many girls are sexually abused by the placement agents.”
Seasonal migration to brick kilns, tea gardens
In some villages in Jharkhand, entire families migrate out to work at brick kilns and tea gardens in neighbouring states.
Dhada, a hamlet in Malgo village, that has around 80 houses, is one such place. Newla Bhagat, the pradhan of the hamlet said, "Eighty percent of the village migrates to work in brick kilns of Uttar Pradesh in between November and April."
Bhagat said that the villagers come back in May when the farming season starts and leave again after six months. "In the non-farming season, the villagers have no jobs and thus nothing to eat. As a result, they are left with no option but to migrate. Most times people go out with their entire families but return with one or two children missing as they are either lost or employed as domestic helps somewhere," he said.
Baidnath Kumar informed that around two lakh people migrate out of the state every year in order to work in brick kilns and tea gardens in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Tripura and Assam.
Registration system, a failure
Former secretary of state (labour department) Manish Ranjan said that in order to ensure safe migration, a system of enrolling them at panchayat levels and providing them green and red cards for safe and unsafe migration respectively was introduced. This was done to ensure the government has a record of people leaving the state to ensure their safety.
But progress in implementing the system has been slow and most villages do not have any such panchayat registers.
"We have no such register. No official record is maintained to identify the migrating people," said Bigni Devi, ward sewak of Malgo village.
Baidnath Kumar said the red and green cards have just become a thing on paper. "If the government issues more cards, more migration from the state will be on record, thus showing the state in a bad light. If they really wanted to register migrating people, they should have opened a counter at every panchayat, bus stop and railway station where people can register themselves," he said.
The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.
Updated Date: Jun 02, 2018 13:08 PM