Another alarming trend is that the line between migration, refugee crisis and trafficking is becoming very thin.It has been consistently noticed that the geographical paths and routes of trafficking bear striking resemblance with those of migration. The increasing scale of both natural and man-made disasters, particularly armed conflicts and civil wars, is creating a whole new generation of refugees who are becoming victims of trafficking gangs.Syria is a stark reminder of this trend.
Clearly , law enforcement agencies in developed countries as well as global bodies tasked to check trafficking need much more coordination and cooperation. Moreover, the international community by incorporating abolition of trafficking and all other forms of modern slavery in a time bound manner in UN Sustainable Development Goals has agreed this crime has wider negative implications on economic growth and development. Realisation of these goals requires will, resources and action at national and international levels.
India has not been immune to this global scourge. Official data indicates that close to 20,000 women and children were trafficked in India in 2016 but the real numbers could be far higher. More than 1,00,000 children go missing every year. Almost half of them are never traced.Most of the untraced children become victims of human trafficking, slavery , begging and prostitution rackets.
Since most victims of trafficking belong to poor and marginalised families, hardly anyone, including police personnel, paid much attention to these family trage dies. But a historic Supreme Court judgment of 2013 based on a petition by our movement Bachpan Bachao Andolan has directed the state to act promptly and effectively . Yet, trafficking and slavery continue to flourish in India.
And the stories are tragic. We had rescued 13-year-old Malvika (name changed) from Gurgaon. She was trafficked from a village in West Bengal with promises of good wages. Her life was hell after that. In two consecutive homes where she worked as a domestic help, Malvika was treated like a slave with the employers routinely beating her. In both houses, she was raped repeatedly by drivers.
Malvika is lucky that she was rescued and is back with her family . Hundreds of thousands of victims like her have not been as lucky. What can we do in India to stop the barbarity against young girls like Malvika?
For starters, we need a strong law against trafficking. Despite endless debates and repeated pleas by civil society groups, stringent anti-trafficking laws have not been passed by Parliament. Nor have state governments taken meaningful measures to stop this atrocity. It took almost 19 years for India to ratify the ILO conventions that prohibit the worst forms of child labour. Let us not drive hundreds of thousands of innocent children into cruel and miserable lives of slavery by indulging in such unforgivable delays.
We as citizens too need to play a more proactive role by refusing to keep our eyes and ears closed. We must protest and report cases of suspected trafficking victims in our neighbourhoods. That is a moral imperative. Equally important is the need to target the economic roots behind trafficking. It is states like Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam and Odisha that still witness extreme poverty that report the most cases of trafficking.
Apart from vastly improved awareness and law enforcement, what India needs to deal with trafficking and slavery is economic opportunities. When poor families earn enough to feed themselves, they become less vulnerable to criminal gangs. When incomes of poor families improve, their children go to school instead of seeking work. When children go to school, their chances of being trafficked and sold into slavery diminish dramatically.
For 70 years or so, India has not ensured economic security to a large number of its citizens. Of what help is India becoming an economic superpower if hundreds of millions remain in poverty with their children vulnerable to predatory traffickers?
The writer is 2014 Nobel peace laureate and founder of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation